I study education policy through the lens of psychology. Broadly, my research examines how individual and contextual factors collectively impact the development of educational and occupational expertise across a variety of domains. With numerous colleagues, I’ve examined the many factors that contribute to and take away from talent development and how these are connected to policies and conversations on enhancing creativity and innovation ranging from the individual to society. My hope is that the knowledge gained from this research can inform ways to improve outcomes for disadvantaged populations. I use a variety of methods to study these topics, including historical, longitudinal, and experimental studies as well as systematic reviews. My work has addressed several topics: (a) improving STEM education and achievement, (b) narrowing of achievement gaps for talented but disadvantaged students, (c) developing spatial talent for vocational and STEM fields, (d) the rise in talents and their link to creativity and innovation, (e) the development of prodigies, (f) better understanding the educational backgrounds of leaders, and (g) the value of a higher educational degree.
Selected Research Publications
Wai, J., & Benbow, C. P. (in press). Educational interventions on behalf of the gifted: Do they have lasting links with development? In J. Van Tassel-Baska (Ed.), Talent development in gifted education: Theory, research, and practice.
Kanaya, T., Wai, J., & Worrell, F. C. (in press). The “Flynn effect” and decision making in education: Addressing fairness concerns. In AERA book titled Fairness issues and solutions in educational and psychological testing: Implications for researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and the public.
Lewis, N. A., Jr., & Wai, J. (2021). Communicating what we know, and what isn’t so: Science communication in psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science. Forbes
Wai, J., & Worrell, F. C. (2020). How talented low-income kids are left behind. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(4).
Lakin, J. M., & Wai, J. (2020). Making space for spatial talent. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(4).
Lakin, Wai, J., & Lakin, J. M. (2020). Finding the missing Einsteins: Expanding the breadth of cognitive and noncognitive measures used in academic services. Contemporary Educational Psychology. Forbes
Lakin, J. M., & Wai, J. (2020). Spatially gifted, academically inconvenienced: Spatially talented students experience less academic engagement and more behavioral issues than other talented students. British Journal of Educational Psychology. The Conversation, Fordham Institute, Edutopia, Forbes
Kell, H. J., & Wai, J. (2019). Right-tail range restriction: A lurking threat to detecting associations between traits and skill among experts. Journal of Expertise, 2, 224-242. Forbes
Wai, J., & Allen, J. (2019). What boosts talent development? Examining predictors of academic growth in secondary school among academically advanced youth across 21 years. Gifted Child Quarterly, 63, 253-272. Psychology Today
Kanaya, T., Wai, J., & Miranda, B. (2019). Exploring the links between receiving special education services and adulthood outcomes. Frontiers in Education: Special Educational Needs, 4, 56. Chalkbeat, Psychology Today
Wai, J., & Uttal, D. H. (2018). Why spatial reasoning matters for education policy. American Enterprise Institute Policy Report. Edutopia, Forbes
Wai, J., & Halpern, D. F. (2018). The impact of changing norms on creativity in psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 466-472.
Wai, J., & Perina, K. (2018). Expertise in journalism: Factors shaping a cognitive and culturally elite profession. Journal of Expertise, 1, 57-78. Scientific American, The Intercept, The Hill, AlterNet, FAIR
Wai, J., & Worrell, F. C. (2017). Fully developing the potential of academically advanced students: Helping them will help society. American Enterprise Institute Policy Report. Times Educational Supplement
Wai, J. & Worrell, F. C. (2016). Helping disadvantaged and spatially talented students fulfill their potential: Related and neglected national resources. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3, 122-128. The Conversation, The Huffington Post, National Review, Business Insider, Alternet, Quartz
Makel, M. C., & Wai, J. (2016). Does economic research in education work? For which studies? Journal of Advanced Academics, 27, 73-80.
Makel, M. C., Wai, J., Putallaz, M., & Malone, P. (2015). The academic gap: An international comparison of the time allocation of academically talented students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 59, 177-189. The Conversation, Quartz, World Economic Forum
Miller, D., & Wai, J. (2015). The bachelor’s to PhD STEM pipeline no longer leaks more women than men: A 30-year analysis. Frontiers in Psychology: Developmental, 6, 37. Nature, Science, U.S. News, Inside Higher Ed, The Guardian
Wai, J. (2015). Long-term effects of educational acceleration. In S. G. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. E. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.) A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses that hold back America’s brightest students (V. II, pp. 73-83). Iowa City, IA: The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted and Talented Education.
Wai, J., Putallaz, M., & Makel, M. C. (2012). Studying intellectual outliers: Are there sex differences, and are the smart getting smarter? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 382-390. The Economist
Wai, J., & Putallaz, M. (2011). The Flynn effect puzzle: A 30-year examination from the right tail of the ability distribution provides some missing pieces. Intelligence, 39, 443-455. Wired, Scientific American
Makel, M. C., Li, Y., Putallaz, M., & Wai, J. (2011). High ability students’ time spent outside the classroom. Journal of Advanced Acacdemics, 22, 720-749.
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., Benbow, C. P., & Steiger, J. H. (2010). Accomplishment in science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and its relation to STEM educational dose: A 25-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 860-871. Nature, Scientific American, Education Week, NPR
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over fifty years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 817-835. Scientific American, NPR, Science
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2009). Aligning potential and passion for promise: A model for educating intellectually talented youth. In J. S. Renzulli, E. J. Gubbins, K. S. McMillen, R. D. Eckert, & C. A. Little (Eds.) Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (2nd ed., pp. 693-716). Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
Halpern, D. F., & Wai, J. (2007). The world of competitive Scrabble: Novice and expert differences in visuospatial and verbal abilities. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 13, 79-94. The New Republic, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2005). Creativity and occupational accomplishments among intellectually precocious youths: An age 13 to age 33 longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 484-492. The New York Times, Science