Personality Matters More Than Intelligence at School

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11 May 1939 --- 1930s 1940s smiling girl sitting at desk raising her hand.
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According to a new review of the link between personality and academic achievement, personality is a better way to predict success at school than intelligence as it’s usually measured, by traditional standardized tests. Arthur Poropat, of Griffith University in Australia, compared measurements of what psychologists call the “big five” personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — to academic scores, and found that the students who were rated higher in openness and conscientiousness tended to receive better grades. 

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,” Poropat said in the release accompanying the paper, which was published in Learning and Individual Differences. “And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.”

More on the findings, from the release:

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.

It makes intuitive sense that both conscientiousness and openness would result in higher grades; it doesn’t really matter how smart you are if you can’t manage to turn your homework in on time, for one. And another word for openness is curiosity, another obviously necessary factor in learning. Still, it’s an interesting way to think about academic achievement for anyone who grew up believing they did well in school simply because they were “smart.”