Grit Not Necessarily Linked to Academic Success

A new study suggests that “grit,” defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, does not appear to be directly related to academic success, despite the fact that education policymakers in both the U.S. and U.K. have placed a strong emphasis on this personality trait.

Previous studies have shown small associations between grit and academic achievement. But researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London point out that these studies had relied on highly selected samples such as spelling competition finalists and teachers, which may have led to stronger associations between grit and achievement in later life.

The study is the first to investigate the genetic and environmental origins of grit, as well as its influence on academic achievement, within a large representative U.K. sample of 16-year-olds. Findings are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers analyzed a sample of 4,500 16-year-old twins and found that all personality traits account for about six percent of the differences between GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) results. Even further, after controlling for these characteristics, grit alone predicted only 0.5 percent of the differences between GCSE results.

According to the researchers, these findings warrant concern given the present emphasis placed by education policymakers on teaching grit to pupils in the U.K. and the U.S.

For the study, researchers administered the ‘Grit-S’ questionnaire to 16-year-old twin participants in order to measure their perseverance of effort and consistency of interest. For example, participants rated the extent to which they agreed with statements such as “Setbacks don’t discourage me” (perseverance) and “I have a difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete” (consistency of interest).

The “Big Five” personality questionnaire was used to assess those traits often selected by psychologists as the most important: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism.

In addition to analyzing the connection between grit and academic achievement, the researchers also evaluated the extent to which grit is heritable (i.e. the extent to which genes contribute to differences between people in their levels of grit).

Some scientists have previously suggested that grit may be more malleable than other predictors of academic success, such as socioeconomic status and intelligence. This has even led to proposals for grit training programs in schools.

The new findings show that grit was about as heritable as other personality traits, with DNA differences explaining around one-third of the differences between children in levels of grit.

“Until now there has been very little evidence about the origins of differences between children in grit and its influence on academic achievement, despite the fact that it plays an important role in UK and US education policies,” said first author Dr. Kaili Rimfeld from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

“Our study suggests that grit adds little to the prediction of academic achievement when other personality factors are taken into account.”

“This does not mean that teaching children to be grittier cannot be done or that it is not beneficial. Clearly children will face challenges where qualities of perseverance are likely to be advantageous. However, more research into intervention and training programs is warranted before concluding that such training increases educational achievement and life outcomes.”

Source: King’s College London

Student studying in library photo by shutterstock.