Does Personality Affect Academic Performance?

| June 30, 2012

A vast number of studies have sought to determine the predictability of academic performance by personality traits. Given that there is empirical data about the effect of intelligence and cognitive processes on school performance, it is understandable that the relationship between personality traits and academic achievement has been examined by studies controlling for those two factors. Two of the famous psychologists, whose factor-analytic works contributed to the research on personality traits, intelligence, and academic performance, are R. B. Cattell and H. J. Eysenck. In this article, Cattell and Eysenck’s findings, as well as those of other researchers of the field, will be discussed. Special attention will be given to the so-called “Big Five” personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness), particularly the links between conscientiousness, extroversion (also one of Eysenck’s three super-traits), neuroticism (also one of Eysenck’s three super-traits) and academic performance (Goldberg, 1990; Ewen, 2010).
In Cattell’s Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, or 16 PF, one trait that is measured as an ability trait (the other 15 being temperament traits), is intelligence. It has been most highly related to success in school (Ewen, 2010). Although academic performance has typically been associated with intelligence rather than personality (Sternberg & Kaufman, 1998), empirical evidence shows that both personality and intelligence are important predictors of academic achievement, given their long-known association with learning (Busato, Prins, Elshout, & Hamaker, 1999). This relationship has been found in both high school and college levels of education. According to Barton, Dielman, and Cattell (1972), in the sixth and seventh grades, the high achiever, in all the four domains of science, social studies, mathematics, and reading, is intelligent and conscientious. At a higher level of education, Noftle & Robins (2007), studied the relationship between personality and academic aptitude and achievement. They found a positive association between conscientiousness and college GPA, and another positive relation between openness to experience and SAT verbal scores. These relations were similar in both self-reports and university records. Poropot (2009) controlled for intelligence and found that the correlation between conscientiousness and academic performance was largely independent of intelligence. The positive association between academic performance and conscientiousness may be attributed simply to the hard-working, organized and ambitious nature of highly conscientious individuals (Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham, 2003). Absence from school is another important factor that has been studied in this area. The relationship between personality traits and adolescent school absenteeism was investigated by Lounsbury, Steel, Loveland, and Gibson. They found that absence from school was negatively related to openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness (Lounsbury, Steel, Loveland, and Gibson, 2004).
The association between academic performance a and extroversion is controversial. Eysenck (1967), who suggested three super-traits (introversion-extraversion, neuroticism-stability, and psychoticism) as the core of personality, argued that extraversion and neuroticism were theoretically and empirically associated with ability, chiefly as a consequence of similarities in mental processing speed. For instance, high extraversion, low neuroticism, and high intelligence are all related to high mental speed. In addition, it has been shown that stable, as opposed to neurotic, individuals tend to score higher on ability tests and university courses, potentially less overwhelmed by anxiety (Chamorro-Premuzic, Zeidner & Matthews, 2000; Cattell & Kline, 1977). Further, Rolfhus and Ackerman (1999) found negative relationships between extraversion and performance on several academic tests, and suggested that these relationships might be related to the differences in knowledge-acquisition time between introverts (who spend more time studying) and extraverts (who spend more time socializing). Furnham, Forde, and Cotter (1998), however, found that extraverts significantly outperformed introverts on a measure of logical reasoning. Chamorro-Premuzic and Furnham (2003) explored the predictability of general academic achievement in two longitudinal studies of British university students. They found neuroticism to be a negative correlate of academic achievement.
In Conclusion, it must be reiteratd that Cattell and Eysenck’s factor-analytic works have contributed greatly to the vast body of literature on the relationship between personality traits and academic achievement. The results of these studies indicated a positive correlation between conscientiousness, openness to experience and academic performance. However, the data on the possible links between extroversion, introversion and academic achievement seem to be too mixed to produce a conclusion.
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