Certain personality traits more important than intelligence for predicting success in education

Well, you need to have some intelligence of course, but new research seems to suggest that personality outsmarts intelligence at school. Dr Arthur Poropat from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology has conducted the largest ever reviews of personality and academic performance. He based these reviews on the fundamental personality factors (Conscientiousness, Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion, aka the big five) and found Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success. And more important: other people rating these personality factors seem to be the best predictor of academic success.

UPDATE: I received an interesting reaction by @fanseel (prof. Frederik Anseel) that he thinks it’s hard to base the conclusion of predicting success on correlations, and he does have a point.

In short:

  • First meta-analysis of other-rated, FFM-specific measures with academic performance
  • FFM has some of the strongest correlations with academic performance ever reported.
  • GPA correlations with Conscientiousness exceeded those with intelligence.
  • Teacher-rated personality is as valid as parent- or peer-rated personality.
  • Teacher- and peer-rated personality should be used to guide education & development.

From the press release:

Dr Poropat says educational institutions need to focus less upon intelligence and instead, pay more attention to each student’s personality.

“With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence for guiding both students and teachers,” Dr Poropat said.

“In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.

“And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.”

In Dr Poropat’s research, a student’s assessment of their own personality is as useful for predicting university success as intelligence rankings.

However, when people who know the student well provide the personality rating, it is nearly four times more accurate for predicting grades.

Dr Poropat said understanding how personality impacts on academic achievement is a vital when it comes to helping students reach future success.

“Intelligence tests have always been closely linked with education and grades and therefore relied upon to predict who would do well,” Dr Poropat said.

“The impact of personality on study is genuinely surprising for educational researchers, and for anyone who thinks they did well at school because they are ‘smart’.”

Previous studies have shown that students who think they are smart often stop trying and their performance declines over time, while those who consider themselves hard workers get progressively better.

Dr Poropat said the best news for students is that it’s possible to develop the most important personality traits linked with academic success.

“Personality does change, and some educators have trained aspects of students’ Conscientiousness and Openness, leading to greater learning capacity.

“By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be ‘taught’, despite the popularity of brain-training apps.”

Abstract of the study:

Considerable gaps remain in teachers’ and students’ understanding of factors contributing to learning and educational outcomes, including personality. Consequently, current knowledge about personality within educational settings was reviewed, especially its relationships with learning activities and academic performance. Personality dimensions have previously been shown to be related to learning strategies and activities, and to be reliably correlated with academic performance. However, personality is typically self-rated, introducing methodological disadvantages associated with informational and social desirability biases. A meta-analysis of other-rated personality demonstrated substantially higher correlations of academic performance with all of the dimensions of the Five-Factor Model of personality, which were not accounted for by associations with intelligence. The combined association of academic performance with all of the Five-Factor Model dimensions was one of the largest so far reported in education. The findings have implications for personality measurement. Teachers are able to assess students’ personalities to match educational activities to student dispositions, while students’ development of learning capacities can be facilitated by feedback on how their personalities are linked with effective learning.

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