Duke TIP

Dr. Jonathan Wai

Dr. Jonathan Wai
Research Scientist
Author, Psychology Today: Finding the Next Einstein

Research Description

What can we learn from studying extremely smart, creative, or talented people? Dr. Wai is broadly interested in understanding the best ways to nurture intellectual and creative talent. His current research program systematically investigates different populations of intellectual outliers to better understand the talent development process. Dr. Wai has explored the intersection between intelligence and creativity, the importance of spatial ability for STEM domains, sex differences in cognitive abilities, the world of competitive Scrabble, the importance of educational dose for later achievement, and the persistent rise in IQ scores known as the Flynn effect. Much research has been conducted using data from the general population focusing on individual subfields. Taking an interdisciplinary perspective, he expands this approach, leveraging data from right tail populations to see how studies from multiple subfields using multiple methods might help place our understanding of the talent development process in new light.

Dr. Wai also writes for general audiences about how research on intellectual outliers connects to the areas of intelligence, creativity, psychology, business, and education, and really to what is going on in the world. The cultural conversation today revolves around the top 1 percent in wealth, but he thinks we should really be focused on the top 1 percent in brains. This other 1 percent is extremely important for the future of America as he discusses in his article, The Brainiac-Billionaire Connection and his column for Psychology Today, “Finding the next Einstein: Why smart is relative.” His work has been covered by the New York Times, Scientific American, American Scientist, Reuters, Wired, Forbes, The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Review, The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan: The Daily Beast, and Education Week and has appeared in publications such as Psychology Today, Forbes, Inc., Business Insider, Education Week, and Yahoo! among many others. Dr. Wai has been awarded multiple international Mensa Awards for Research Excellence and currently serves on the board of directors of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation.


Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Duke University
PhD and Master of Science, Psychology, Vanderbilt University
Master of Arts, Cognitive Psychology and Evaluation, Claremont Graduate University
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology and Mathematics, Claremont McKenna College

Selected Publications

Wai, J., Putallaz, M., & Makel, M. C. (in press). Studying intellectual outliers: Are there sex differences, and are the smart getting smarter? Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Wai, J. (September 24, 2012). The scary smart are the scary rich. Forbes.

Wai, J. (July/August, 2012). Of brainiacs and billionaires. Psychology Today. Pages 78-85, 92.

Wai, J. (July 24, 2012). The SAT needs to be harder. Education Week.

Wai, J., & Putallaz, M. (in press). The Flynn effect puzzle: A 30-year examination from the right tail of the ability distribution provides some missing pieces. Intelligence. PDF

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. PDF

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. PDF

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. PDF

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. PDF

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. PDF

Dr. Wai’s Curriculum Vitae PDF114.87 KB