Two traits link to success

April 12, 2001

An orderly, methodical mind or one that cannot leave a question unanswered are not necessarily academic assets. According to a study, academic achievement can be predicted solely by a desire to achieve and understand.

Sampo Paunonen, professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and Michael Ashton, a researcher at Brock University, tested 717 psychology undergraduates in 13 classes between 1987 and 1999.

Each student completed a standard aptitude test to assess different aspects of their personalities. The results were then compared to their eventual grades.

Paunonen found that just two of the 20 different traits tested for seemed to predict good academic results: the need for achievement, in which the student aspires to accomplish difficult tasks to work towards a distant goal; and the need for understanding, in which the student wants to acquire many areas of knowledge.

These traits may seem obvious advantages in academic study, but no other common personality facet linked to success has emerged.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Research in Personality , also showed that these two narrowly defined traits were much better predictors than broader measures such as openness to experience and conscientiousness.

"While many of the consistent dimensions of personality on which people vary are not related to academic achievement in this study, it does not mean they are not important," Paunonen said.

"If this course had a significant class participation component, then other traits such as dominance and exhibitionism would have been important in predicting grade-point averages," he added.

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