Personality Trumps Intelligence When Learning

Personality traits like conscientiousness and openness are better indicators of long-term academic success than traditional, standardized ways of measuring intelligence.

Personality Trumps Intelligence When Learning

Personality traits like conscientiousness and openness are better indicators of long-term academic success than traditional, standardized ways of measuring intelligence, according to a new study out of Griffith University. 


In the largest ever review of personality and academic performance, Dr. Arthur Poropat found that students' assessment of their own personality was just as good at predicting academic success as were intelligence rankings. When someone who knew the student well did the personality assessment, its effectiveness was four times that of intelligence rankings.

The review examined what are known as the five fundamental factors of human personality: conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and extraversion. A person's conscientiousness and openness exerted the largest influence over how well they learned new things. 

"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."

While students who consider themselves smart tend to rest on their intelligence, realizing diminishing returns on their effort over time, students who consider themselves hard workers progressively get better.

The good new, says Dr. Poropat, is that personality can be taught. Teachers can guide their students toward openness while raw intelligence remains a trait fixed by genetics.

To be sure, learning isn't just for schoolchildren. As former President Bill Clinton explains, the process of acquiring new knowledge is a pursuit that lasts a lifetime:

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