2019-2020 Awards for Excellence in Research winners

This year’s recognized research includes a meta-analysis of Spearman’s g, or general intelligence, manifested in cognitive data from non-Western nations and a longitudinal study of the likeliness of future leadership predictors in elite STEM graduate students.

Senior Division

Dr. Russell Warne

Dr. Russell T. Warne, Utah Valley University: “Spearman’s g Found in 31 Non-Western Nations: Strong Evidence That g Is a Universal Phenomenon” (coauthor Cassidy Burningham)

Abstract: Spearman’s g is the name for the shared variance across a set of intercorrelating cognitive tasks. For some — but not all — theorists, g is defined as general intelligence. While g is robustly observed in Western populations, it is questionable whether g is manifested in cognitive data from other cultural groups.

To test whether g is a cross-cultural phenomenon, we searched for correlation matrices or data files containing cognitive variables collected from individuals in non-Western, nonindustrialized nations. We subjected these data to exploratory factor analysis (EFA) using promax rotation and two modern methods of selecting the number of factors. Samples that produced more than one factor were then subjected to a second-order EFA using the same procedures and a Schmid-Leiman solution.

Across 97 samples from 31 countries totaling 52,340 individuals, we found that a single factor emerged unambiguously from 71 samples (73.2 percent) and that 23 of the remaining 26 samples (88.5 percent) produced a single second-order factor. The first factor in the initial EFA explained an average of 45.9 percent of observed variable variance (SD = 12.9 percent), which is similar to what is seen in Western samples. One sample that produced multiple second-order factors only did so with one method of selecting the number of factors in the initial EFA; the alternate method of selecting the number of factors produced a single higher-order factor. Factor extraction in a higher-order EFA was not possible in two samples. These results show that g appears in many cultures and is likely a universal phenomenon in humans.

Article link: Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 145, Issue 3 (March 2019)

Junior Division

Dr. Kira McCabe

Dr. Kira O. McCabe, Vanderbilt University: “Who Shines Most Among the Brightest: A 25-Year Long Longitudinal Study of Elite STEM Graduate Students” (coauthor David Lubinski)

Abstract: In 1992, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) surveyed 714 first- and second-year graduate students (48.5 percent female) attending U.S. universities ranked in the top 15 in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This study investigated whether individual differences assessed early in their graduate school career were associated with becoming a STEM leader 25 years later (e.g., STEM full professors at research-intensive universities, STEM CEOs, and STEM leaders in government) versus not becoming a STEM leader.

We also studied whether there were any important gender differences in relation to STEM leadership. For both men and women, small to medium effect size differences in interests, values, and personality distinguished STEM leaders from non-leaders. Lifestyle and work preferences also distinguished STEM leaders who were more exclusively career-focused and preferred to work — and did work — more hours than non-leaders. Also, there were small to large gender differences in abilities, interests, and lifestyle preferences. Men had more intense interests in STEM and were more career-focused. Women had more diverse educational and occupational interests, and they were more interested in activities outside of work. Early in graduate school, therefore, there are signs that predict who will become a STEM leader — even among elite STEM graduate students.

Given the many ways in which STEM leadership can be achieved, the gender differences uncovered within this high-potential sample suggest that men and women are likely to assign different priorities to these opportunities.

Article link: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March 2019

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.