Experts are born, then made: Combining prospective and retrospective longitudinal data shows that cognitive ability matters
Jonathan Wai; Available online 23 September 2013
Does cognitive ability matter in the development of expertise in educational and occupational domains? Study 1 reviewed prospective longitudinal data from the top 1% in ability within two cohorts of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY; Total N = 1975) and examined four cohorts of a stratified random sample of America's population (Project Talent; Total N = 1536) to see whether ability differences at a younger age made a difference in the attainment of a higher percentage of educational degrees and specifically doctorates (e.g., JDs, MDs, or PhDs) at a later age. Compared to the general population, the top 1% in ability earned a much higher percentage of educational degrees at each level. And even within the top 1% of ability, ability differences made a difference in obtaining a doctorate degree. Study 2 reviewed retrospective longitudinal data from five groups of America's elite (Total N = 2254)—Fortune 500 CEOs, federal judges, billionaires, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives—to determine what percentage of each group was in the top 1% of general ability at a younger age. A large percentage of individuals within each of these areas of occupational expertise were found to be in the top 1% of ability. By combining multiple samples of both prospective and retrospective longitudinal data, cognitive ability was found to matter in the acquisition of educational and occupational expertise.