2020-2021 Awards for Excellence in Research winners

This year’s recognized research includes a historical review of the oldest and longest-running longitudinal study in the field of psychology, a review and meta-analysis of the effectiveness of educational intervention efforts, a comparison between high- and low-income students of the perceived barriers to education, and latent profile analysis to develop psychological support programs for honors college students.

Senior Division

Jennifer Cross headshot

Jennifer Riedl Cross, “Psychological Heterogeneity Among Honors College Students” (coauthors Tracy L. Cross, Sakhavat Mammadov, Thomas J. Ward, Kristie Speirs Neumeister, and Lori Andersen)

Abstract: Greater knowledge of the psychology of honors college students will help to inform program administrators, counselors, residence life assistants, and faculty about how they may provide support to those with the greatest need. Via an online survey, personality, perfectionism, and suicidal ideation data were collected from honors college students (N = 410, 73 percent female). Using latent profile analysis, students were classified by their responses to the Big Five Inventory personality measure into five profiles. Risk factors of high perfectionism and suicidal ideation scores were found in two of the profiles, suggesting students with these personality characteristics may need enhanced psychological support. The largest profile (35 percent of students) had extraversion scores above the norm, but all other profiles had introverted scores below the norm. Neuroticism scores were also higher than the norm in the introverted profiles, which represented a majority of the honors college students.

Article link: Journal for the Education of the Gifted, Vol 41, Issue 3

Tracy Cross headshot

Tracy L. Cross, “A Comparison of Perceptions of Barriers to Academic Success Among High-Ability Students from High- and Low-Income Groups: Exposing Poverty of a Different Kind” (coauthors Jennifer Riedl Cross, Andrea Dawn Frazier, and Mihyeon Kim)

Abstract: In 14 focus group interviews, sixth- to eighth-grade high-ability students from high- (N = 36) and low-income (N = 45) families were asked to describe the barriers they perceived to their academic success. Three themes were identified through the qualitative analysis: Constraining Environments, Integration versus Isolation, and Resource Plenty versus Resource Poor. Students in both groups experienced environments not conducive to learning, inhibiting peers, and teachers as a barrier. Students in the low-income group described mayhem in their schools, which interfered significantly with learning. These students were highly integrated in their school community, whereas the students in the high-income group were socially isolated from both peers and teachers. Both groups exhibited issues of poor fit within their schools: autonomy and competence for both, relatedness for students in the high-income group. Attention to these issues will help support these students in achieving their potential.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 62, Issue 1

David Lubinski headshot

David Lubinski, “Intellectual Precocity: What Have We Learned Since Terman?” (coauthor Camilla P. Benbow)

Abstract: Over the past 50 years, eight robust generalizations about intellectual precocity have emerged, been empirically documented, and replicated through longitudinal research. Within the top 1 percent of general and specific abilities (mathematical, spatial, and verbal) over one-third of the range of individual differences are to be found, and they are meaningful. These individual differences in ability level and in pattern of specific abilities, which are uncovered by the use of above-level assessments, structure consequential quantitative and qualitative differences in educational, occupational, and creative outcomes. There is no threshold effect for abilities in predicting future accomplishments; and the concept of multipotentiality evaporates when assessments cover the full range of all three primary abilities. Beyond abilities, educational/occupational interests add value in identifying optimal learning environments for precocious youth and, with the addition of conative variables, for modeling subsequent life span development. While overall professional outcomes of exceptionally precocious youth are as exceptional as their abilities, educational interventions of sufficient dosage enhance the probability of them leading exceptionally impactful careers and making creative contributions. Findings have made evident the psychological diversity within intellectually precocious populations, their meaningfulness, and the environmental diversity required to meet their learning needs. Seeing giftedness and interventions on their behalf categorically has held the field back.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 65, Issue 1

Kate Snyder headshot

Kate Snyder, “Interventions for Academically Underachieving Students: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” (coauthors Carlton J. Fong, Jackson Kai Painter, Caroline M. Pittard, Sebastian M. Barr, and Erika A. Patall)

Abstract: Despite decades of research on interventions for academically underachieving students, no clear answers have emerged. Synthesizing across existing intervention efforts can help in understanding not only the overall effectiveness for these interventions, but also the factors that may moderate such effectiveness. In the current study, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of interventions for academically underachieving students, exploring effects on achievement and psychosocial outcomes. Overall, findings from 53 studies revealed that interventions are moderately effective in improving achievement and psychosocial outcomes. Moderator analyses revealed that intervention effectiveness varied by grade level. Implications for research and practice are discussed, particularly the need for rigorous evaluations of well-designed interventions that consider the fit between students’ unique reasons for underachievement and the makeup of the intervention.

Article link: Educational Research Review, Vol. 28

Junior Division

Lisa Bardach headshot

Lisa Bardach, “Smart Teachers, Successful Students? A Systematic Review of the Literature on Teachers’ Cognitive Abilities and Teacher Effectiveness” (coauthor Robert M. Klassen)

Abstract: This study provides a systematic review of the literature on teachers’ cognitive abilities (intelligence test scores and proxies of cognitive abilities such as college entrance exam scores and basic skills test scores) and teacher effectiveness. Twenty-seven studies conducted between 2000 and 2019 constitute the sample for this review. Studies using intelligence test scores were rare, with the results indicating no or negative associations with teacher effectiveness. Studies on proxies of cognitive abilities yielded, at most, small positive relations with teacher effectiveness. However, behind these overall results regarding proxies of cognitive abilities lie interesting heterogeneities, as several studies analyzing different test domains uncover a differentiated pattern of findings. We also identify key limitations related to construct measurement, sampling approaches, statistical analyses and the interpretation and reporting of the included studies and outline a path for future research on teachers’ cognitive abilities and teacher effectiveness.

Article link: Educational Research Review, Vol. 30

Brian Bernstein headshot

Brian Bernstein, “Psychological Constellations Assessed at Age 13 Predict Distinct Forms of Eminence 35 Years Later” (coauthors David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow)

Abstract: This investigation examined whether math/scientific and verbal/humanistic ability and preference constellations, developed on intellectually talented 13-year-olds to predict their educational outcomes at age 23, continue to maintain their longitudinal potency by distinguishing distinct forms of eminence 35 years later. Eminent individuals were defined as those who, by age 50, had accomplished something rare: creative and highly impactful careers (e.g., full professors at research-intensive universities, Fortune 500 executives, distinguished judges and lawyers, leaders in biomedicine, award-winning journalists and writers). Study 1 consisted of 677 intellectually precocious youths, assessed at age 13, whose leadership and creative accomplishments were assessed 35 years later. Study 2 constituted a constructive replication — an analysis of 605 top science, technology, engineering, and math graduate students, assessed on the same predictor constructs early in graduate school and assessed again 25 years later. In both samples, the same ability and preference parameter values, which defined math/scientific versus verbal/humanistic constellations, discriminated participants who ultimately achieved distinct forms of eminence from their peers pursuing other life endeavors.

Article link: Psychological Science, Vol 30, Issue 3

Darya Zabelina headshot

Darya L. Zabelina, “Unity and Diversity of Executive Functions in Creativity” (coauthors Naomi P. Friedman and Jessica Andrews-Hanna)

Abstract: Increasing evidence suggests that executive functions (EFs) — a set of general-purpose control processes that regulate thoughts and behaviors — are relevant for creativity. However, EF is not a unitary process, and it remains unclear which specific EFs are involved. The present study examined the association between the three EFs, both uniquely (EF-Specific) and together (Common EF), and three measures of creativity. Participants (N = 47) completed a divergent thinking test and self-reported their real-life creative accomplishments. A subset of participants indicated their involvement in the artistic or information technology professions. Results indicated that fluency (but not originality) of divergent thinking was uniquely predicted by working memory Updating. Better response Inhibition predicted higher number of real-world artistic creative achievements. Involvement in the artistic (versus IT) professions was associated with better Common EF, and with enhanced mental set Shifting abilities. Results demonstrate that different EFs predict creativity depending on its operational definition.

Article link: Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 68

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.