Friday, 9 December 2005

Self-discipline matters more than IQ

An American study has found that a school pupil’s self-discipline is a stronger predictor of their future academic success than their IQ, leading researchers to conclude that self-discipline may be the “royal road” to building academic achievement.

In a first study, Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman (Positive Psychology Centre, University of Pennsylvania) recruited 140 school children (average age 13 years) at the start of the academic year. In the Autumn, the children, their parents and teachers, all completed questionnaires about the children’s self-discipline. The measures asked things about the children’s ability to follow rules, to avoid acting impulsively, and to put off instant rewards for later gratification. Scores from the different measures were combined to create an overall indicator of self-discipline.

The researchers found self-discipline predicted all sorts of academic measures taken seven months later, including the children’s average grade for the academic year, their Spring exam result and their selection into High School.

A second study with 164 children (average age 13) followed a similar procedure but also involved the children taking an IQ test in the Autumn. Self-discipline again predicted later academic performance, as measured by their average grade for the year and their Spring exam result. Moreover, the researchers found that the children’s self-discipline scores accounted for twice as much of the variation in their later academic performance as their IQ did.

The researchers said “Underachievement among American youth is often blamed on inadequate teachers, boring textbooks, and large class sizes. We suggest another reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline”.

Duckworth, A.L. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

Everyone who aspires to something knows that the key is self-discipline. As a professional musician I can tell you that discipline is WAY more important than talent. But I think that students would be more disciplined if schools were more interesting too. I wrote a fwe things about that (and I linked back to you) if anyone wants to see at

James said...

good ol' Seligman misleading as usual...

Self discipline predicts GPA because GPA is largely a measure of...self discipline...You turns in your work, you gets your A, only average intelligence is necessary. What's more, the kids in this study were above-average in intelligence to begin with.

It also looks like they used age-normed IQ scores...guess what, IQ controls for age. Their self-discipline measure does not. Some of the variance they are attributing to self-discipline is likely due to age variation within grade. They should use a cognitive ability growth scale instead.

Anyway, the whole point of measuring IQ is to detect which kids would be capable of higher performance if they could learn some self-discipline, and which kids are being held back by more basic cognitive functioning. So I don't think pitting IQ vs. Self Discipline is very helpful.

I also doubt that self-discipline would predict very far into the future. I'm not sure it is a very stable personality trait. Big 5 Conscientiousness would be the stable core of self-discipline, but many studies have shown that it only has a modest correlation with GPA and job performance. Better than any other personality variable, sure, but not as strong as IQ. This results of this study seem out of sync with the literature, so I'm thinking their self-discipline measure got contaminated with school performance right from the start.

Mom/ME said...

Guess what...IQ does not change with age!

Unknown said...

Agree with James, this study only demonstrates that self discipline helps people to deal with the assessment tools.

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.