2021-2022 Awards for Excellence in Research winners

This year’s recognized research explores the use of DNA to predict intelligence, a review of career outcomes for former math olympians, an examination of the longitudinal potency of intellectually 13-year-olds after 35 years, and the development processes of underrepresented students in STEM disciplines.

Senior Division

Sophie Von Stumm headshot

Sophie Von Stumm, “Using DNA To Predict Intelligence” (coauthor Robert Plomin)

Abstract: The DNA revolution made it possible to use DNA to predict intelligence. We argue that this advance will transform intelligence research and society. Our paper has three objectives. First, we review how the DNA revolution has transformed the ability to predict individual differences in intelligence. Thousands of DNA variants have been identified that – aggregated into genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS) – account for more than 10 percent of the variance in phenotypic intelligence. The intelligence GPS is now one of the most powerful predictors in the behavioral sciences. Second, we consider the impact of GPS on intelligence research. The intelligence GPS can be added as a genetic predictor of intelligence to any study without the need to assess phenotypic intelligence. This feature will help export intelligence to many new areas of science. Also, the intelligence GPS will help to address complex questions in intelligence research, particularly how the gene-environment interplay affects the development of individual differences in intelligence. Third, we consider the societal impact of the intelligence GPS, focusing on DNA testing at birth, DNA testing before birth (e.g., embryo selection), and DNA testing before conception (e.g., DNA dating). The intelligence GPS represents a major scientific advance, and, like all scientific advances, it can be used for bad as well as good. We stress the need to maximize the considerable benefits and minimize the risks of our new ability to use DNA to predict intelligence.

Article link: Intelligence, Vol. 86, May-June 2021

Jae Yup Jung headshot

Jae Yup Jung, “After the International Mathematical Olympiad: Career Decisions and the Development of Mathematical Talent of Former Australian Olympians” (coauthor Jihyun Lee)

Abstract: This study investigated the educational and career experiences of former Australian Olympians after their participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad. For this purpose, 15 former Olympians were engaged in interviews about how they developed their mathematical talent at university, how they selected their careers, and how they developed their mathematical talent within their careers. Thematic analysis was undertaken on the collected data. The resulting themes provided useful insights into the reasoning behind the selection of one’s area of study, the nature of the study experience, the factors considered in the career decision, and the nature of mathematical development in one’s career. Among other conclusions, the study suggested the applicability of two theories (i.e., the theory of work adjustment and the megamodel of talent development) in understanding the educational/career decisions of this group, the need for more systematic gifted education provisions within tertiary settings, and a prominent “brain drain” effect.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 65, Issue 3

Junior Division

Brian Bernstein headshot

Brian Bernstein, “Academic acceleration in gifted youth and fruitless concerns regarding psychological well-being: A 35-year longitudinal study” (coauthors David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow)

Abstract: Academic acceleration of intellectually precocious youth is believed to harm overall psychological well-being even though short-term studies do not support this belief. Here we examine the long-term effects. Study 1 involves three cohorts identified before age 13, then longitudinally tracked for over 35 years: Cohort 1 gifted (top 1% in ability, identified 1972–1974, N = 1,020), Cohort 2 highly gifted (top 0.5% in ability, identified 1976 –1979, N = 396), and Cohort 3 profoundly gifted (top 0.01% in ability, identified 1980 –1983, N = 220). Two forms of educational acceleration were examined: (a) age at high school graduation and (b) quantity of advanced learning opportunities pursued prior to high school graduation. Participants were evaluated at age 50 on several well-known indicators of psychological well-being. Amount of acceleration did not covary with psychological well-being. Study 2, a constructive replication of Study 1, used a different high-potential sample— elite science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduate students (N = 478) identified in 1992. Their educational histories were assessed at age 25 and they were followed up at age 50 using the same psychological assessments. Again, the amount of educational acceleration did not covary with psychological well-being. Further, the psychological well-being of participants in both studies was above the average of national probability samples. Concerns about long-term social/emotional effects of acceleration for high-potential students appear to be unwarranted, as has been demonstrated for short-term effects.

Article link: Journal of Educational Psychology, 2021

Trent Cash headshot

Trent Cash, “Psychological Well-Being of Intellectually and Academically Gifted Students in Self-Contained and Pull-Out Gifted Programs” (coauthor Tzu-Jung Lin)

Abstract: This study examined the psychological well-being of students enrolled in two gifted programs with different service delivery models. Participants were 292 fifth- and sixth-grade students (Mage = 11.70, SDage = 0.65) enrolled in a gifted math pull-out program (n = 103), a self-contained gifted program (n = 90), or a program providing no gifted services, which served as a control group (n = 99). Multiple differences in psychological well-being across programs were revealed in Hierarchical Linear Models, particularly in terms of math self-concept, loneliness, and maladaptive perfectionism. Students in the two gifted programs reported different patterns of psychological well-being when compared with students in the no gifted services control group. These differences suggest distinct social phenomena underlying the two different service delivery models.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol 66, Issue 3

Jeroen Lavrijsen headshot

Jeroen Lavrijsen, “Student Characteristics Affecting the Recognition of High Cognitive Ability by Teachers and Peers” (coauthor Karine Verschueren)

Abstract: Accurate teacher judgments of student cognitive ability are crucial to effective instruction. Building on a large survey among 7th graders and their teachers, this study considers which student characteristics affect teacher and peer recognition of high ability students. High ability judgments by teachers were found to depend more on everyday school achievement (GPA) than on cognitive ability (IQ) itself, even when teachers were urged to distinguish between achievement and ability. Girls were less likely to be perceived as highly able than boys with similar levels of ability. Parental educational level affected high ability judgment, but only through its relation with school achievement. Both the most engaged and the most bored students were more frequently selected as highly able students. Similarly, peer judgments of highly able classmates depended, net of cognitive ability, on everyday school achievement, perceived engagement and disengagement, and gender, with girls being less likely to be judged as highly able.

Article link: Learning and Individual Differences, Vol 78, 2020

Yao Yang headshot

Yao Yang, “Striving to Excel in STEM: Insights from Underrepresented, Minoritized Graduate Students with High Academic Ability”

Abstract: Little information exists concerning underrepresented students’ talent development in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This retrospective qualitative study investigated the talent development processes of five Black, seven Hispanic, and three Native American graduate students enrolled in STEM disciplines. All participants completed three individual, one-hour interviews. Inductive thematic analysis revealed participants experienced challenges throughout their schooling, including chilly atmosphere in STEM disciplines, sense of loneliness, imposter syndrome, and pressure to prove themselves as capable. Despite these obstacles, participants benefited from academic rigor in STEM, gifted education programs, and extended support networks from families, friends, and mentors. Participants also developed a strong sense of responsibility for community service and social justice. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Hyeseong Lee headshot

Hyeseong Lee, “A Meta-Analytic Evaluation of Naglieri Nonverbal Agility Test: Exploring Its Validity Evidence and Effectiveness in Equitably Identifying Gifted Students” (coauthors Nesibe Karakis, Bekir Olcay Akce, Abdullah Azzam Tuzgen, Sareh Karami, Marcia Gentry, and Yukiko Maeda)

Abstract: The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) was developed to identify students of color more equitably, as it advertises itself as a culture-fair measure. In this meta-analytic evaluation, we aimed to investigate (a) the generalizability of validity evidence of NNAT by checking its construct and criterion validity with other measures (Part I) and (b) whether NNAT truly meets its goal to identify more culturally diverse students (Part II). After reviewing 1,714 studies, a total of 29 studies met our criteria (59 effect sizes from 22 studies for Part I and seven effect sizes from seven studies for Part II). In Part I, we investigated empirical evidence of validity of NNAT in relationship with different types of measures (overall effect size of r was .44); The results revealed that the correlation between NNAT and the achievement test results was 0.68, followed by the intelligence measures similar to NNAT (e.g., Cognitive Abilities Test, Otis–Lennon School Ability Tests; r = .31) and other alternative measures often used to identify gifted students (e.g., teacher-rating scale; r = .20). The moderator analysis results showed high correlations between NNAT and other measures when Naglieri is an author of the study. In Part II, although NNAT identified more students of color compared with other nonverbal tests (overall effect size of risk ratio was 0.42), findings revealed that students of color remain underrepresented in gifted programs and services.

Article link: Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol 75, Issue 3

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.