2017-2018 Awards for Excellence in Research winners

Senior Investigators

Saiying Steenbergen-Hu, Northwestern University: “Factors That Contributed to Gifted Students' Success on STEM Pathways: The Role of Race, Personal Interests, and Aspects of High School Experience” (coauthor Paula Olszewski-Kubilius)

Abstract: In this study, we conducted binary logistic regression on survey data collected from 244 past participants of a Talent Search program who attended regular high schools but supplemented their regular high school education with enriched or accelerated math and science learning activities. The participants completed an online survey 4 to 6 years after high school. This study examined how their demographics, high school experiences, and timing of and reasons for pursuing a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pathway related to the probability of earning STEM college degrees. This study revealed two factors that were positively and significantly associated with the outcome of earning STEM college degrees: Asian or White ethnicity and students’ personal interest in STEM. Findings suggest that students’ success in earning STEM degrees may not be fully attributable to their high achievements or abilities, and that their experiences in the Talent Search and supplemental outside-of-school gifted programs helped students intensify their interests in STEM.

Article link: Journal for the Education of the Gifted, April 2017

Linda S. Gottfredson, University of Delaware: “Hans Eysenck's Theory of Intelligence, and What it Reveals About Him”

Abstract: Hans Eysenck was a highly analytical, objective, independent-minded experimentalist. He personified the biological perspective of the Galton–Spearman ‘London School of Psychology’, which he led for many decades. His first (1939) and last publications (1998) were on intelligence. Returning to the topic in the 1960s, he formulated, tested, and promulgated the theory that general intelligence (g) is a biological phenomenon with broad social consequences. I examine the status of Eysenck's theory, advances in the field, and social reactions to them during the 1960s–1970s, 1980s–1990s, and since 2000. My perspective is that of a sociologist who, in testing alternative theories of social inequality, was drawn inexorably into the intelligence literature, policy debates over fairness in employee selection, and first-hand observation of the sort of controversies he experienced. Eysenck's 1979 and 1998 textbooks on intelligence mark developments in his theory and supporting evidence during the first two periods. They exhibit considerable knowledge about the philosophy and history of science, and the nature of scientific controversy. Advances in intelligence since 2000, in particular, from neuroimaging and molecular genetics, vindicate his biological perspective. It was controversial during his lifetime because he was so far ahead of his time.

Article link: Personality and Individual Differences Volume 103, December 2016

Jonathan Wai, Duke University: “Helping Disadvantaged and Spatially Talented Students Fulfill Their Potential: Related and Neglected National Resources” (coauthor Frank C. Worrell)

Abstract: For at least the last half-century, we have underserved advanced learners, losing countless minds and corresponding innovations. The scientific evidence is clear on educational interventions that are most effective and relatively easy to implement for this population. Despite this, such educational opportunities are not readily available to all students. Whereas financially advantaged students can access opportunities outside of school that develop their talents, financially disadvantaged students cannot, and their talents largely go underdeveloped. Another underserved population is spatially talented learners, who can reason by using well-structured visual images. They are often underidentified and neglected in standardized tests and school systems that emphasize verbal and mathematical skills. Although all advanced learners deserve to have their talents developed to the fullest, a policy focus on the financially disadvantaged and spatially talented would be an actionable and effective strategy to quickly level the playing field. Because spatial reasoning is less correlated with socioeconomic status than are math and verbal reasoning in the population, identifying spatial talent will also identify more students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds. A policy focus on helping and challenging such disadvantaged students would contribute to fulfilling their talent and increasing their well-being; it also would increase demographic and intellectual diversity among the ranks of the highest achievers and benefit society. The current K-12 federal educational allocation to advanced learners is currently near zero. Research suggests a small early investment in advanced learners would pay off in intellectual and technological innovations, as well as GDP.

Article link: Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, December 2015

Dr. Martin Dresler, Radboud University Medical Center (the Netherlands): “Mnemonic Training Reshapes Brain Networks to Support Superior Memory” (coauthors William R. Shirer, Boris N. Konrad, Guillén Fernández, Michael Czisch, Michael D. Greicius)

Abstract: Memory skills strongly differ across the general population; however, little is known about the brain characteristics supporting superior memory performance. Here we assess functional brain network organization of 23 of the world’s most successful memory athletes and matched controls with fMRI during both task-free resting state baseline and active memory encoding. We demonstrate that, in a group of naive controls, functional connectivity changes induced by 6 weeks of mnemonic training were correlated with the network organization that distinguishes athletes from controls. During rest, this effect was mainly driven by connections between rather than within the visual, medial temporal lobe and default mode networks, whereas during task it was driven by connectivity within these networks. Similarity with memory athlete connectivity patterns predicted memory improvements up to 4 months after training. In conclusion, mnemonic training drives distributed rather than regional changes, reorganizing the brain’s functional network organization to enable superior memory performance.

Article link: Neuron, March 2017

Dr. Ann Robinson, University of Arkansas, Little Rock: “A Talent for Tinkering: Developing Talents in Children From Low-Income Households Through Engineering Curriculum” (coauthors Jill L. Adelson, Kristy A. Kidd, and Christine M. Cunningham)

Abstract: Guided by the theoretical framework of curriculum as a platform for talent development, this quasi-experimental field study investigated an intervention focused on engineering curriculum and curriculum based on a biography of a scientist through a comparative design implemented in low-income schools. Student outcome measures included science content achievement, engineering knowledge, and engineering engagement. The sample comprised 1,387 Grade 1 students across 62 classrooms. Multilevel modeling was used separately for each of the three student outcome measures. The intervention resulted in an effect size of 0.28 on an out-of-level science content assessment and effect size of 0.66 for the engineering knowledge measure. Students in the intervention group reported a high level of engineering engagement. General education teachers were trained to implement the curricula through a summer institute and received coaching throughout the subsequent academic year. Evidence suggests the intervention functioned as a talent-spotting tool as teachers reported they would nominate a substantial portion of low-income and culturally diverse students for subsequent gifted and talented services. Discussion focused on the match between the needs and preferences of students from low-income households for hands-on design experiences and the curricular affordances in the engineering domain as a talent development pathway for young, poor children.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, October 2017

Junior Investigators

Enyi Jen, Purdue University: “High-Ability Students' Perspectives on an Affective Curriculum in a Diverse, University-Based Summer Residential Enrichment Program” (coauthors Marcia Gentry, and Sidney M. Moon)

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate how high-ability students experienced their participation in an affective curriculum through small-group discussions in a diverse, university-based, summer enrichment program for talented youth. The investigation included two closely related studies. The first study included 77 high-ability students from several cultures and economic backgrounds who participated in the 2014 summer program. The second was a retrospective study with 24 Native American students from Diné, Ojibwe, and Lakota tribes who had participated in the affective curriculum in 2013 to determine if their participation had any longer term effects on this subgroup. In general, the students from all backgrounds in both studies said the small-group discussions enriched their overall program experience. Twenty-two of the 24 Native American students from the three tribes who participated in the retrospective study reported that they believed they had changed their behaviors during the past year because of their participation in the small-group discussions the previous summer. The changes mentioned most by these students were exhibiting stronger self-confidence and being more open to people. The results of this study suggests that the affective intervention was regarded positively. It provided both short- and long-term benefits to the high-ability students who participated in the program.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, July 2017

Renae D. Mayes, Ball State University: “Adversity and Pitfalls of Twice-Exceptional Urban Learners” (coauthor James L. Moore, III)

Abstract: Current research provides unique insights into the experiences and context of twice-exceptional students in K-12 schools. However, within this literature, a critical gap exists concerning the voices of twice-exceptional African American students and their families. The current qualitative study examined the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of eight African American artistically gifted students with disabilities and three parents in a large, urban school district in the Midwest. Three major themes emerged from qualitative interviews: (a) the significance of labels, (b) social and personal experiences of exceptionality, and (c) challenges and strategies in the school environment. To this end, findings indicate that students experience their special education identity much differently from their gifted identity.

Article link: Journal of Advanced Academics, May 2016

Ruth Karpinski, Pitzer College: “High Intelligence: A Risk Factor For Psychological and Physiological Overexcitabilities”

Abstract: High intelligence is touted as being predictive of positive outcomes including educational success and income level. However, little is known about the difficulties experienced among this population. Specifically, those with a high intellectual capacity (hyper brain) possess overexcitabilities in various domains that may predispose them to certain psychological disorders as well as physiological conditions involving elevated sensory, and altered immune and inflammatory responses (hyper body). The present study surveyed members of American Mensa, Ltd. (n = 3715) in order to explore psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) processes among those at or above the 98th percentile of intelligence. Participants were asked to self-report prevalence of both diagnosed and/or suspected mood and anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and physiological diseases that include environmental and food allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. High statistical significance and a remarkably high relative risk ratio of diagnoses for all examined conditions were confirmed among the Mensa group 2015 data when compared to the national average statistics. This implicates high IQ as being a potential risk factor for affective disorders, ADHD, ASD, and for increased incidence of disease related to immune dysregulation. Preliminary findings strongly support a hyper brain/hyper body association which may have substantial individual and societal implications and warrants further investigation to best identify and serve this at-risk population.

Article link: Intelligence, January/February 2018

The Mensa Foundation's Awards for Excellence in Research are given internationally for outstanding research on intelligence, intellectual giftedness and related fields. Papers must be published in a peer-reviewed journal or presented at a peer-reviewed conference. Senior investigators received their degrees more than five years ago and have since been active in their fields. Junior investigators include graduate students, researchers who have earned their degrees within the past five years and those who have previously earned degrees in other fields and entered their present field within the past five years.