Jonathan Wai

Jonathan Wai

Assistant Professor

Endowed Chair in Education Policy


(EDRE)-Education Reform

Phone: 479-575-4971

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Jonathan Wai is Assistant Professor and the Endowed Chair in Education Policy in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and also holds a joint (courtesy) appointment in the Department of Psychology. Broadly, he studies education policy through the lens of psychology. His research examines how individual and contextual factors collectively impact the development of educational and occupational expertise across a variety of domains.

Wai’s program of research has contributed to several areas: (a) improving STEM education and achievement, (b) 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, (g) the value of a higher educational degree, and (h) the distribution of educational inequality. For these and other contributions he has received multiple international Mensa Awards for Research Excellence and his work has been funded by the American Psychological Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

His research articles have appeared in a variety of academic journals, including Journal of Educational Psychology, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Current Directions in Psychological Science, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Intelligence, Gifted Child Quarterly, Journal of School Choice, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, and Perspectives on Psychological Science. He serves as "member at large" for the AERA Research on Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent Development group, on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Intelligence Research, and on the editorial boards of Intelligence, Journal of Expertise, Journal for the Education of the Gifted, and Gifted Child Quarterly.

Wai has been a research scientist at Duke University, a research fellow at Geisinger Health System, and a visiting scholar at Case Western Reserve University. He received his B.A. in psychology and mathematics from Claremont McKenna College, an M.A. in cognitive psychology and evaluation from Claremont Graduate University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in quantitative methods for psychology from Vanderbilt University.

His work has been featured multiple times in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist, Scientific American, Nature, and Science. He has served on the board of directors of the MATHCOUNTS foundation.

Current teaching:
Psychology of Education (graduate)
Measurement of Educational Outcomes (graduate)
Special Problems (graduate)

Prior teaching:
Research Methods (graduate)
Psychometric Methods (undergraduate)
Introduction to Statistics (undergraduate)

Google Scholar profile

Public scholarship

Wai, J., & Lakin, J. M. (in press). Finding the missing Einsteins: Expanding the breadth of cognitive and noncognitive measures used in academic services. Contemporary Educational Psychology.

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 Science.

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

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 Psychology.

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.

Asbury, K., & Wai, J. (2020). Viewing education policy through a genetic lensJournal of School Choice.

Wai, J., & Bailey, D. H. (2020). 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 policyAmerican Enterprise Institute Policy Report.

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 Post, NBC News, The Conversation, CNBC, Salon

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 AmericanThe InterceptThe HillAlterNetFAIR

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 Report.

Wai, J., & Rindermann, H. R. (2017). What goes into high educational and occupational achievement? Education, brains, hard work, networks, and other factorsHigh Ability Studies28, 127-145. The ConversationU.S. News & World ReportNewsweekCBS NewsTimeWorld Economic ForumQuartz

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 extensionIntelligence, 59, 8-15. Science, QuartzSpiegel Online

Wai, J. & Worrell, F. C. (2016). Helping disadvantaged and spatially talented students fulfill their potential: Related and neglected national resourcesPolicy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3, 122-128. The ConversationThe Huffington PostNational ReviewBusiness InsiderAlternet,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 arleady 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 CEOsIntelligence, 53, 102-107. The Washington Post, Business InsiderMarginal Revolution

Makel, M. C., Wai, J., Putallaz, M., & Malone, P. (2015). The academic gap: An international comparison of the time allocation of academically talented studentsGifted Child Quarterly, 59, 177-189. The ConversationQuartzWorld 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. NatureScienceU.S. NewsInside Higher EdThe 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. CNBCThe Washington PostInc.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. NatureFinancial Times, Business InsiderScientific AmericanMIT Sloan Analytics Conference

Wai, J. (2013). Investigating America’s elite: Cognitive ability, education, and sex differences. Intelligence, 41, 203-211. CNBCFinancial TimesThe 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. WiredScientific American

Makel, M. C., Li, Y., Putallaz, M., & Wai, J. (2011). High ability students’ time spent outside the classroomJournal 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 TimesQuartz

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. NatureScientific American, Education WeekNPR

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 AmericanNPRScience

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.

AERA Michael Pyryt Collaboration Award, 2020
International Mensa Awards for Research Excellence, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2019
Mexican National Award on Giftedness (Mexican Federation of Giftedness), 2018
Reviewer of the Year, Gifted Child Quarterly, 2018
Research and writing profiled by Rotman Management Magazine, University of Toronto, 2015
Von Brock Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Duke University, 2009-2011
Susan Gray Award for Excellence in Scholarly Writing, Vanderbilt University, 2010
New Voice Scholar in Creativity and Intelligence (Chosen by Field Leaders), University of Kansas, 2009
Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology (SMEP) Dissertation Award, 2007
Peabody Honor Scholar, 2003-2007
Vanderbilt University Graduate Fellow, 2003-2007
Uhlmann Scholar, Merit Scholarship, Claremont McKenna College, 1998-2002
Washington Scholar, Waived Tuition, Western Washington University Summer Courses, 1998-2002