Jonathan Wai Ph.D.

Jonathan Wai, Ph.D.

Wai is a research scientist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program and a visiting researcher at Case Western Reserve University. He did his postdoctoral work at Duke University, holds a doctorate from Vanderbilt University, and graduated from Claremont McKenna College.

He studies how individual and contextual factors collectively impact the development of achievement and expertise across a variety of domains. He’s used historical, longitudinal, and experimental approaches to examine the multiple factors that contribute and take away from human capital development and how that’s connected to policies and conversations on enhancing creativity and innovation.

One stream of research focuses on the role of education, from K-12 through college and graduate school. Another stream focuses on the role of abilities, skills, and other factors on educational, occupational, and creative achievement and leadership attainment. Much of his work is related to STEM education and achievement. He is also interested in which educational interventions are most effective and how things like media can impact learning.

Wai’s research is complimented by his work in science communication, practice, and policy, including education policy. Some work in this area has focused on helping disadvantaged and neglected students in the current school system, such as those from low income backgrounds and in need of spatial skill identification and educational development.

His academic work has appeared in Journal of Educational Psychology, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Policy Insights From The Behavioral And Brain Sciences, Intelligence, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Journal of Advanced Academics, Gifted Child Quarterly, and Frontiers in Psychology: Developmental.

He is a strong advocate for science communication in the service of science, and has written articles and served on panels to encouage colleagues to engage with the public.

His work has started international conversations, and has been discussed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNBC, Financial Times, The Economist, Scientific American, Wired, Education Week, Nature, Science, and many others worldwide.

His public writing has appeared in Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, National Review, CNN, Education Week, NPR, Quartz, Business Insider, TechCrunch, The World Economic Forumand others where his ideas have reached millions.

Wai has been profiled in Rotman Magazine, Forbes, Times Educational Supplementand WSJ Marketwatch.

His academic papers have won multiple international Mensa Awards for Research Excellence and he has served on the board of directors of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation. He lives with his wife, kids, and cat.

CV here (email). Google Scholar Profile here.

Representative Papers

Çetin, Y, Wai, J., Altay, C., & Bushman, B. J. (2016). Effects of violent media on verbal task performance in gifted and general cohort children. Gifted Child Quarterly. The Conversation, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Straits Times, LiveScience

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, Quartz, Business Insider

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. Quartz, Marginal Revolution, University World News

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

Hsu, S., & Wai, J. (2015). These 25 schools are responsible for the greatest advances in science. Quartz. The Wall Street Journal, Science, U.S. News, Harvard University

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. 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

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

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. 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

Representative Articles/Op-eds/Other Research

July, 2016: Are gifted kids more sensitive to screen violence?The Conversation, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Straits Times, LiveScience

April, 2016: What the world's wealthiest, self-made women have in commonQuartz, Yahoo! Finance

March, 2016: A nation at risk - how gifted, low-income kids are left behindThe Conversation, The Huffington Post, National Review, Business Insider

December, 2015: Having smart neighbors could mean a higher income for youQuartz, World Economic Forum

December, 2015: Here's why academics should write for the publicUS Conversation, The Huffington Post, Northwestern University (with David Miller)

October, 2015: Why are we supporting everyone except our most talented students?Medium: Bright, National Review, Quartz (with Frank Worrell)

September-October, 2015: U.S. public, private, liberal arts, and Ivy League colleges ranked by average student brainpowerBusiness Insider (with Melissa Stanger and Jenna Goudreau)

September, 2015: How do academic prodigies spend their time and why does that matter?US Conversation, Quartz, World Economic Forum (with Matthew Makel)

July, 2015: By neglecting spatial intelligence, how many Elon Musks have we missed?Quartz, Psychology Today

March, 2015: Frank Bruni is wrong about Ivy League SchoolsQuartz, Psychology Today

March, 2015: We should be paying attention to the 1% of brainiacs, not billionairesQuartz

February, 2015: The stubborn pattern of academic aptitude by college major: 1946 to 2014 – Quartz

October-December, 2014: U.S. Public, Private, Liberal Arts, and Ivy League Colleges Ranked By Average Student Brainpower – Business Insider (with Jenna Goudreau)

October, 2014: 1,339 U.S. Colleges Ranked By Average Student BrainpowerBusiness Insider, Psychology Today [full ranking and discussion here]

October, 2014: There's No Getting Around Facetime With Your KidsQuartz

September, 2014: How Do We Know if Gifted Education Works?Psychology Today (with Matthew Makel)

September, 2014: Decades of Facebook Likes Will Explain How You Became YourselfQuartz

August, 2014: Should The SAT Be Optional?Quartz

August, 2014: The Case For Starting Statistics Education In KindergartenQuartz

July, 2014: If You Want To Be Rich And Powerful, Majoring In STEM Is A Good Place to StartQuartz, LinkedIn

June, 2014: A Shocking Number of The World's Rich and Powerful Attended Elite CollegesBusiness Insider, Inc.

June, 2014: Sorry Jay Mathews, Gifted Education MattersPsychology Today

May, 2014: It Turns Out That Smart People Do Run The USBusiness Insider

April, 2014: More Gifted Students: Harder To Get Into The Ivies?Business Insider, Psychology Today

April, 2014: Standardized Tests: Are We Shooting At The Messenger?Psychology Today

March, 2014: One Size Does Not Fit All: The Need For Variety In LearningNPR Mindshift

March, 2014: Hire Like Google? For Most Companies, That's A Bad IdeaLos Angeles Times (with Christopher Chabris)

February, 2014: 8 Simple Strategies To Improve Your InnovationBusiness Insider, Psychology Today

January, 2014: The Best Business Schools Based On GMAT ScoresQuartz

January, 2014: Here Are 97 Books, Articles, And Movies That Will Make You SmarterBusiness Insider, Psychology Today

January, 2014: Even As A Child, Jeff Bezos Was A Data-Obsessed, Workaholic GeniusQuartz

November, 2013: Nine Ways To Become Smarter Than You ThinkPsychology Today, Business Insider

November, 2013: Who's Smarter? Republicans And Democrats In CongressPsychology Today

October, 2013: The 25 Countries With The Most BrainpowerBusiness Insider (with Max Nisen), follow up on Psychology Today: What's The Smartest Country In The World?

September, 2013: The 25 Smartest Colleges In AmericaBusiness Insider, Yahoo! [full rankings here] (with Max Nisen)

July, 2013: Why We Need To Value Students’ Spatial Creativity – NPR Mindshift, Quartz

June, 2013: The Art Of Communicating Science - Psychology Today

February, 2013: Why We Need The Math Police – Education Week (with Lou DiGioia)

February, 2013: Jack Andraka Is Not An Ordinary Kid - Psychology Today

February, 2013: Do Gifted Kids Want To Be A Scientific Genius Today? - Psychology Today

December, 2012: How Khan Academy Will Help Find The Next Einstein - Psychology Today

November, 2012: The US Needs To Focus Its Educational Efforts On Talented Americans - TechCrunch

October, 2012: Smart People Really Do Rule The World – Business Insider

October, 2012: Don’t Believe The Myth Of The Billionaire College Dropout – Business Insider

September, 2012: The Scary Smart Are The Scary Rich – Forbes

July, 2012: Of Brainiacs And Billionaires – Psychology Today

July, 2012: The SAT Needs To Be Harder – Education Week [ungated version here]

June, 2012: Chess Concepts Peter Thiel Used To Become A Billionaire – Business Insider, Inc., Yahoo!

June, 2012: Why The Smartest People Talk The Least – Business Insider

March, 2012: Why Is It Socially Acceptable To Be Bad At Math? – Psychology Today

February, 2012: Could Brain Imaging Replace The SAT? – Psychology Today

November, 2011: Sorry Talented, Striving Matters – Psychology Today

August, 2011: How Brainy Is Your Major? – Psychology Today

June, 2011: How Do You Measure An Intellectual Giant? – Psychology Today

April, 2011: If You Are Creative, Are You Also Intelligent? – Psychology Today

March, 2011: America’s Got Talent – Psychology Today

March, 2011: Will We Ever Find The Next Einstein? – Psychology Today

Representative Interviews

September, 2014: Intelligence Is Critical to the Future of Humankind: Douglas Detterman – Psychology Today

June, 2014: Reinventing The Boundaries of Science Journalism: Thomas Lin – Psychology Today

December 2013: We Are Not As Smart As We Think: Tyler Cowen – Psychology Today

November, 2013: Does Technology Make Us Smarter?: Clive Thompson – Psychology Today

September, 2013: The Geography of Creativity: Enrico Moretti – Psychology Today

September, 2013: The Sports Gene: David Epstein – Psychology Today

February, 2013: How To Live A Meaningful Life: Marty Nemko – Psychology Today

December, 2012: Khan Academy And The Next Einstein: Sal Khan – Psychology Today

October, 2012: Talent In Education And Business: Norman Augustine – Business Insider

August, 2012: Finding The Next Carl Sagan: Adam Frank – Psychology Today

June, 2012: Science Writing Can Save Lives: Tim Folger – Psychology Today

January, 2012: The Educational World Is Flat: Tom Vander Ark – Psychology Today

December, 2011: A Polymath Physicist: Steve Hsu – Psychology Today

June, 2011: The Magic of Great Literature: James Flynn – Psychology Today

Author of

Finding the Next Einstein

Finding the Next Einstein: Why Smart is Relative discusses research findings and ideas that touch upon multiple issues surrounding the identification and development of talent, and explores how these issues might be relevant to what's going on in the world.

Read now.