About Project Talent



Project Talent is a national longitudinal study that first surveyed America’s high school students in 1960. At the time, it was the largest and most comprehensive study of high school students ever conducted in the United States. Over 440,000 students from 1,353 schools across the country participated in two full days or four half days of testing. The study was developed by the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, and several other organizations, including the University of Pittsburgh, through a Cooperative Agreement. It was funded by the United States Office of Education. Fifty years later, the American Institutes for Research is preparing to follow up with participants from the original 1960 study.


Study Design

Project Talent was designed to represent the diversity of the American high school experience in the early 1960s. The study surveyed private, parochial and public schools from every corner of the country; from small rural towns to big cities, and from all economic, cultural, and social backgrounds. For a more detailed explanation of how schools were selected to participate and the content of the tests, see Study Design.

# Lawrence W. Derthink United States Commissioner of Education April 15, 1959

The purpose of the study is to find out why some students learn and others do not; why some students do poorly in high school and then seem to come into their own in college, while others who do well in high school fail to adjust to college. Here, on an unprecedented scale, is an attempt to find out more about the students’ interests, their career plans, and whether the courses they take are consistent with the life objectives they have set for themselves. And, above all, it is an attempt to determine why so much of the nation’s human potential is lost and what schools, counselors and parents can do to reduce this loss.



Project Talent is unique amongst studies of its kind. It is the only large scale, nationally representative study that tracks participants from childhood to retirement age. This enables researchers to study how experiences, abilities, interests, and personality types demonstrated early in life impact the health and wellbeing of individuals as they age. Researchers hope to discover patterns that indicate why some people continue to thrive mentally, physically, and financially throughout their lives, while others are challenged in these areas. Information gained from this type of study can provide crucial insights into the causes, preventions, and remedies for some of the most critical issues facing current and future generations of Americans.

Project Talent’s current research endeavors are focused on age-related changes in social, emotional, physical, mental, and financial health and wellbeing. With the dramatic increase in the number of older Americans that will result from the aging of the baby boom generation over the next several decades, Project Talent is an especially valuable resource for understanding and improving the aging process. Researchers hope that the wealth of Project Talent data will help to provide answers to the following questions:

  • Are there early predictors of, and/or risk or protective factors associated with aging-related declines in cognitive ability and memory capacity? What behavioral treatments can optimize cognitive performance and slow memory deterioration?
  • What habits or practices in early- and mid-life are associated with good mental and emotional health later in life? What socio-emotional coping skills are developed to manage adversity throughout their lifetime? Additionally, what are the lasting effects of military service on mental health?
  • What are the long-term impacts of segregation on cognitive, emotional, and physical health? How do the health disparities among older Americans relate to racial discrimination, especially as seen through differences in early life education?
  • What are the determinants of good physical health later in life? How does health at a young age affect health status later in life? What is the role of genetics in health throughout the lifecourse?
  • What were the occupational histories of the Project Talent generations? Accordingly, what is the status of their economic well-being in face of the recent recession? How have they managed forced or delayed retirement?

In the area of cognitive health, for example, many researchers and resources have been dedicated to unraveling the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s affects over 5 million people and their families across the United States. Recent studies have suggested, however, that a significant portion of the population may be living with a condition known as Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s. While their brains show the physical evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, they suffer no outward symptoms. Researchers believe that the key to discovering why the disease affects people differently, allowing some to thrive while others are severely debilitated, lies in the early life experiences, interests, and personality types of the subjects. Findings from research such as this can inform important public policy, educational curricula, and social services to help current and future generations live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.

Finally, the lives of the Project Talent generation span a period of remarkable transformation in the history of this country, from the Civil Rights Act, desegregation, the rise of women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War to the coming of the internet age. The American Institutes for Research has an unprecedented opportunity to create an archive of uniquely American stories that capture the American experience in all its incarnations.