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 the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), (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.

I serve on the editorial boards of Intelligence and Journal of Expertise.


Google Scholar Profile

Selected Publications

Wai, J., & Halpern, D. F. (in press). The Flynn effect, intelligence research, and the role of cultural complexity. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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

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., & 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. (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

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