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.


Google Scholar Profile

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 psychologyPerspectives on Psychological ScienceForbes

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 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

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

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

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., & 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. & 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