Grit does not determine success, study concludes

Angela Duckworth's work merely repackages other attributes as 'grit', academics argue

Adi Bloom

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A new study has found that pupils’ grit is no guarantee either of academic performance or of success.

Academics from Iowa State University say that improving pupils’ grit – defined as a combination of passion and perseverance – has less effect on their academic outcomes than teaching them study skills or ensuring high attendance levels.

The Iowa researchers conducted a review of 73 existing studies on grit, involving 66,807 individuals. Their paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that improving pupils’ grit is not a guaranteed way to ensure improvement in their results.

Grit – which was identified and popularised by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth – has been promoted by the Department for Education in this country as a way of ensuring that all children, regardless of background, perform well at school.

'Dysfunctional' effect

But the Iowa academics insist that grit alone is not enough to determine success. High levels of grit, they say, need to be “accompanied by the general potential or ability to succeed in a domain”.

For example, they say, grit is unlikely to make much difference to army cadets who lack the physical ability to pass a military academy’s physical exam.

Equally, the researchers add, high levels of grit can have a dysfunctional effect, “if they increase the likelihood that an individual persists too long in attempting to solve a problem that is particularly difficult, rather than spending their time on other, more solvable problems”.

'Repackaging'

The Iowa State study says that, even when grit is developed in moderation, its effect on academic performance is often limited. “Study habits and skills…report correlations with academic performance and retention that are more than twice as big as those observed for overall grit,” the report says.

It concludes that the reputation of grit as a predictor of academic success is therefore undeserved: grit is simply a repackaging of personality attributes – such as conscientiousness, self-regulation and self-efficacy – that psychologists have already been studying for decades.

"An interest in what Duckworth and colleagues refer to as grit, perseverance and consistency is not new to psychology," the academics write. "Studies of attributes such as willpower, tenacity, determination, persistence of motives...date back over 80 years."

This is an edited version of an article in the 2 September edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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