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 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and achievement, (b) the narrowing of achievement gaps for talented but disadvantaged students, (c) the role of spatial talent for vocational and STEM fields, (d) the rise in abilities and their link to creativity and innovation, (e) the development of prodigies, (f) better understanding the abilities and educational backgrounds of leaders, and (g) the value of a higher educational degree.


Google Scholar Profile

Selected Research Publications

Brown, M. I., Wai, J., & Chabris, C. F. (in press). Can you ever be too smart for your own good? Comparing linear and nonlinear effects of cognitive ability on life outcomesPerspectives on Psychological ScienceTimes Educational Supplement, Forbes, The Conversation

Lewis, N. A., Jr., & Wai, J. (in press). Communicating what we know, and what isn’t so: Science communication in psychologyPerspectives on Psychological ScienceForbes

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.

Wai, J., & Bailey, D. H. (in press). How intelligence research can inform education and public policy. In A. K. Barbey, S. Karama, & R. J. Haier (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence and Cognitive Neuroscience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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).

Wai, J. (2020). Communicating intelligence researchJournal of Intelligence, 8(4), 40.

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 PsychologyForbes

Lakin, J. M., & Wai, J. (2020). Spatially gifted, academically inconvenienced: Spatially talented students experience less academic engagement and more behavioral issues than other talented studentsBritish Journal of Educational PsychologyThe Conversation, Fordham Institute, Edutopia, Forbes

Maranto, R., & Wai, J. (2020). Why intelligence is missing from American education policy and practice, and what can be done about itJournal of Intelligence, 8, 2. Psychology Today

Asbury, K., & Wai, J. (2020). Viewing education policy through a genetic lensJournal of School Choice, 14, 301-315. Discussion from Byrne and colleagues.

Halpern, D. F., & Wai, J. (2020). Sex differences in intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence (pp. 317-345). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kell, H. J., & Wai, J. (2019). Right-tail range restriction: A lurking threat to detecting associations between traits and skill among expertsJournal 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 yearsGifted Child Quarterly, 63, 253-272. Psychology Today

Antonakis, J., Simonton, D. K., & Wai, J. (2019). Intelligence and leadership. In M. D. Mumford & C. A. Higgs (Eds.), Leader thinking skills: Capacities for 21st century leadership (pp. 14-45). London: Taylor & Francis.

Wai, J., Makel, M. C., & Gambrell, J. (2019). An opportunity to reflect on the relationship between elite education, inferred cognitive ability, and the development of eminent creative expertiseJournal of Expertise, 2, 145-147.

Wai, J., Makel, M. C., & Gambrell, J. (2019). The role of elite education and inferred cognitive ability in eminent creative expertise: An historical analysis of the TIME 100Journal of Expertise, 2, 77-91. The Conversation

Kanaya, T., Wai, J., & Miranda, B. (2019). Exploring the links between receiving special education services and adulthood outcomesFrontiers in Education: Special Educational Needs, 4, 56. Chalkbeat, Psychology Today

Wai, J., & Kanaya, T. (2019). Wealth generation as a form of expertise: An examination from 2002-2016 of elite education, cognitive ability, and the gender gap among billionairesJournal of Expertise, 2, 59-76. Psychology Today

Wai, J., & Uttal, D. H. (2018). Why spatial reasoning matters for education policy. American Enterprise Institute Policy ReportEdutopia, Forbes

Wai, J., Brown, M. I., & Chabris, C. F. (2018). Using standardized test scores to include general cognitive ability in education research and policyJournal of Intelligence, 6, 37.  The Washington PostNBC News, The Conversation, CNBC, Business InsiderSalon

Wai, J., & Halpern, D. F. (2018). The impact of changing norms on creativity in psychological sciencePerspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 466-472.

Wai, J., & Perina, K. (2018). Expertise in journalism: Factors shaping a cognitive and culturally elite professionJournal of Expertise, 1, 57-78. Scientific American, The Intercept, The HillAlterNet, FAIR

Wai, J., Hodges, J., & Makel, M. C. (2018). Sex differences in ability tilt in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 35-year examinationIntelligence, 67, 76-83. City Journal

Wai, J., Worrell, F. C., & Chabris, C. F. (2018). The consistent influence of general cognitive ability in college, career, and lifetime achievement. In K. McClarty, K. Mattern, & M. Gaertner (Eds.), Preparing students for college and careers: Theory, measurement, and educational practice (pp. 46-56). New York, NY: Routledge.

Wai, J., & Worrell, F. C. (2017). Fully developing the potential of academically advanced students: Helping them will help societyAmerican Enterprise Institute Policy ReportTimes Educational Supplement

Wai, J., & Rindermann, H. R. (2017). What goes into high educational and occupational achievement? Education, brains, hard work, networks, and other factors. High Ability Studies, 28, 127-145. The Conversation, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, CBS News, Time, World Economic Forum, Quartz

Wai, J. & Kell, H. J. (2017). How important is intelligence in the development of professional expertise?: Combining prospective and retrospective longitudinal data provides an answer. In D. Z. Hambrick, G. Campitelli, & B. Macnamara (Eds.) The science of expertise: Behavioral, neural, and genetics approaches to complex skill (pp. 73-86). Routledge.

Makel, M. C., Wai, J. Peairs, K. F., & Putallaz, M. (2016). Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: An update and cross cultural extension. Intelligence, 59, 8-15. Science, Quartz, Spiegel Online

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

Wai, J., & Lincoln, D. (2016). Investigating the right tail of wealth: Education, cognitive ability, giving, network power, gender, ethnicity, leadership, and other characteristics. Intelligence, 54, 1-32. Bloomberg, Quartz, Psychology Today, Marginal Revolution

Makel, M. C., & Wai, J. (2016). Does economic research in education work? For which studies? Journal of Advanced Academics, 27, 73-80.

Wai, J., & Kell, H. J. (2016). What innovations have we already lost?: The importance of identifying and developing spatial talent. In M. S. Khine (Ed.) Visual-spatial ability in STEM education: Transforming research into practice (pp. 109-124). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Wai, J., & Rindermann, H. R. (2015). The path and performance of a company leader: An historical examination of the education and cognitive ability of Fortune 500 CEOs. Intelligence, 53, 102-107. The Washington Post, Business Insider, Marginal Revolution

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. (2014). Investigating the world’s rich and powerful: Education, cognitive ability, and sex differences. Intelligence, 46, 54-72. CNBC, The Washington Post, Inc., Business Insider

Wai, J. (2014). What does it mean to be an expert? Intelligence, 45, 122-123.

Wai, J. (2014). Experts are born, then made: Combining prospective and retrospective longitudinal data shows that cognitive ability matters. Intelligence, 45, 74-80. Nature, Financial Times, Business Insider, Scientific American, MIT Sloan Analytics Conference

Wai, J. (2013). Investigating America’s elite: Cognitive ability, education, and sex differences. Intelligence, 41, 203-211. CNBC, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal

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

Makel, M. C., Putallaz, M., & Wai, J. (2012). Teach students what they don’t know but are ready to learn: A commentary on “Rethinking giftedness and gifted education.” Gifted Child Quarterly, 56, 198-201.

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., Cacchio, M., Putallaz, M., & Makel, M. C. (2010). Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 30-year examination. Intelligence, 38, 412-423. The New York Times, Quartz

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

Halpern, D. F., Wai, J, & Saw, A. (2005). A psychobiosocial model: Why females are sometimes > and sometimes < males in math achievement. In J. Kaufman and A. Gallagher (Eds.), Gender differences in mathematics (pp. 48-72). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.