True grit is not the answer to better performance: Study

by L&D26 May 2016
Despite the well-known narrative of the person who perseveres and triumphs over adversity, grit is not the answer to achieving success, according to an Iowa State University psychologist.

In fact, success is comprised of a lot of small factors which all add up, said Marcus Credé, an assistant professor who studies techniques to improve performance.

Grit is defined as perseverance and commitment to long-term goals. Credé and his colleagues completed a meta-analysis of all previous research on grit and their results found no evidence that grit is a good predictor of success.  

The most well-known data source on grit is based on West Point cadets who undertook basic training at the United States Military Academy.

The results of one paper found that those cadets with above-average levels of grit are 99% more likely to finish the training than cadets with average levels of grit.

However, Credé's analysis shows the increase in likelihood is really closer to 3%.

"It's a really basic error and the weird thing is that no one else has ever picked it up. People just read the work and said, 'It's this massive increase in people's performance and how likely they are to succeed.' But no one had ever looked at the numbers before," Credé said.

Credé wants to make other people aware of this error because many educators are exploring ways to improve this trait. This is because it's somthing that's "simple and relatable".

If you think of someone who gives up easily compared to someone who keeps at it, it seems to make sense that the one with more grit will succeed, he added.

Credé said that people like the idea that grit is something they can do which has a dramatic impact on their life.

"Nobody wants to hear that success in life is made up of many small factors that all add up. It's your education, it's how hard you work, it's your conscientious and creativity - all these little pieces that add up," Credé said.

"We want to be told there's one big thing that explains everything."

Credé added that there are other more effective ways to achieve better performance.

"We know from other meta-analyses that variables such as adjustment, study habits and skills, test anxiety and class attendance are far more strongly related to performance than grit," said Credé.

"We also know that we can help students adjust better, we can teach them how to study effectively, we can help them with their test anxiety and we can make them come to class through interventions. I'm not sure we can do that with grit."

The results will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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