Wendy Johnson, an MIP network member, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She pursues research involving the structure and nature of general intelligence and specific abilities, personality structure and development, antecedents of individual and sex differences in academic achievement, antecedents of later-life health and psychological well-being, and contributions of cognitive ability to later-life outcomes, with particular emphasis on understanding transactions between genetic and environmental influences. Johnson received a Ph.D. in Psychology form the University of Minnesota in 2005.
Describe your area of study and how it relates to current policy discussions surrounding inequality.
I study how cognitive abilities and other individual characteristics are associated with the kinds of life 'outcomes' tracked in assessments of social inequalities, how they develop, and how genes and environments intertwine in their development.
What areas in the study of inequality are most in need of new research?
I'd say health inequalities and inequalities in opportunities to create 'places in the world' that allow individuals to thrive (financially, psychologically, physically) are the inequalities most in need of remediating, and yes, that we don't understand how they emerge nearly well enough to tackle that remediation at all well. In fact, way too much of what we do policy-wise, even that intended otherwise, just makes it worse -- and Covid has massively accelerated that, with no end in sight.
What advice do you have for emerging scholars in your field?
Young scholars need to remember that life is long. Take the time to get especially the technical, especially including mathematical, training you'll need (which is lots more than usually taught in social science programs). And don't silo your interests! Keep them broad and read widely, not just some narrow specialty lit. Get in and teach stuff you didn't already know too (of course teaching it to yourself first). Keeps your mind flexible.