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Beyond Talent: The roles of self-discipline and grit in achievement Angela Lee Duckworth Katherine Delmar Burke School May 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Beyond Talent: The roles of self-discipline and grit in achievement Angela Lee Duckworth Katherine Delmar Burke School May 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Beyond Talent: The roles of self-discipline and grit in achievement Angela Lee Duckworth Katherine Delmar Burke School May 2009

2 Overview What is grit and what does it predict? What is self-discipline and how does it develop? How is self-discipline related to IQ and academic achievement? Are girls more self-disciplined than boys? What do adolescents seem less self- disciplined than pre-adolescents? Building self-discipline in our children

3 “One of the most significant contrasts among the factors residing within the individual is that between capacity and industry” Clark Hull, 1928

4 Among the mathematically talented, there is a distribution of hours subjects typically work and are willing to work. Figure reproduced from Lubinski and Benbow (2006)


6 High vs. Moderate Challenges “People seem to have the idea that the way to eminence is one of great self-denial, from which there are hourly temptations to diverge…This is true enough of the great majority of men, but it is simply not true of the generality of those who have gained great reputations.” --Galton (1892)

7 Grit since Galton Cox (1926) common traits of 300 geniuses –Tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness. –Tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something fresh because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.” Willingham (1985) –Follow-through, “evidence of purposeful, continuous commitment to certain types of activities versus sporadic efforts in diverse areas” was the best predictor of success in college other than SAT and high school rank

8 Grit Scale Passion for long-term goals New ideas and new projects sometimes distract me from previous ones. (reverse-scored) I become interested in new pursuits every few months. (reverse-scored) My interests change from year to year. (reverse-scored) I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest. (reverse-scored) I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one. (reverse-scored) I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete. (reverse-scored) Perseverance for long-term goals I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge. I have achieved a goal that took years of work. I am diligent. Setbacks don’t discourage me. I finish whatever I begin. I am a hard worker.

9 Grit Samples Adults aged 25 and older (N = 1545) West Point cadets (N = 1223) National Spelling Bee finalists (N = 175) Teach For America corps members (N = 390)

10 Grittier adults had attained more education

11 Older adults were grittier than younger adults

12 1223 West Point cadets

13 Grit predicted summer retention Grit predicted summer retention (94% of the incoming cadets) more robustly than did self-discipline, Whole Candidate Score (high school rank, SAT, leadership potential rating, physical aptitude) Grit predicted drop outs better than all other measured variables combined Grit and SAT score were weakly inversely related (r = -.05, p <.09)

14 Grit predicted summer retention better than self-discipline or Whole Candidate Score

15 National Spelling Bee 175 of 273 finalists participated in study 79 participants took WISC-III Similarities Subtest on phone Age ranged from 7 to 15 years old (M = 13 years) 48% were girls

16 Grit predicted performance better than self-discipline

17 Practice in the current competition and experience in prior competitions each partially mediated the relationship between grit and final round

18 390 first- and second-year teachers Grittier teachers were better performers, measured by the academic gains of their students the following school year –Mastery of grade-level content –# years of academic progress Superior teachers were also higher in zest and life satisfaction

19 Peak skill is reached after years of practice Skill Age (years) Figure adapted with permission from “The scientific study of expert levels of performance” by K.A. Ericsson, p. 90, © 1998

20 When should you give up? “At eleven, I wanted to bag it because I was doing very badly...” “My dad at that point did something that was very important. He said, ‘If you want to quit, that’s fine. But I don’t want you to quit simply because you’re losing…So, I’m going to continue to drive you to workouts and force you to swim and once you turn 12 and are at the top of your age group, you’ll start to do well. If you want to quit then, that’s fine.” (pp )

21 Summary of grit research Grit and self-discipline are highly correlated However, grit predicts the accomplishment of very high challenges among high- achievers better than does self-discipline Smarter individuals are no grittier (and, possibly, on average are less gritty)

22 The Energies of Men “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake… We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources…men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.” --William James (1906)

23 Self-discipline: key to conquering “hourly temptations”

24 Self-discipline = the successful regulation of impulses, emotions, attention, and behavior in the service of a valued goal *also referred to as self-control, self- regulation, effortful control, willpower

25 “…many who are capable of the higher pleasures, occasionally, under the influence of temptation, postpone them to the lower. But this is quite compatible with a full appreciation of the intrinsic superiority of the higher. Men often, from infirmity of character, make their election for the nearer good, though they know it to be the less valuable…” --John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

26 Which child possesses better self-discipline?

27 Neuroscience of self-discipline The brain regions crucial to inhibiting impulses are in the frontal cortex (e.g., frontal cortex and anterior cingulate) Unlike other parts of the brain, the PFC does not reach maturity until late adolescence/early adulthood In contrast, the amygdala and other subcortical areas are developed at birth

28 Mischel’s Marshmallow Test Four-year old preschoolers One marshmallow now vs. two later Wait time in seconds predicts SAT scores more than 10 years later, as well as a range of social-cognitive, personal and other competencies. (r =.42 with verbal SAT and r =.57 with math SAT)

29 Study 1: Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ

30 A prospective longitudinal study of college-bound adolescents Eighth graders (N = 164) at urban school Self-control and IQ measured in the fall Academic performance measured in the spring –GPA –Achievement test scores –Attendance –Studying and lifestyle habits

31 Questionnaires Brief Self-Control Scale (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004) –Example item: “Pleasure and fun sometimes keep me from getting work done.” –Completed by students, parents, homeroom teachers Eysenck Impulsiveness Scale –Example item: “Do you save regularly?” –Completed by students

32 Monetary Choice Questionnaire Figure adapted from Green, Frey, and Myerson, 1994 Subject 1 Subject 2 Subject 3 Value Delay

33 Choice Delay Task Participants are given a $1 The choice is posed: $1 now or $2 in a week About 20% of participants choose $1 now

34 Intercorrelations among self- discipline measures averaged r =.32

35 A composite self-discipline score predicted academic performance better than did IQ


37 Self-control also predicted gains in GPA over the school year

38 Study 1 findings Self-control explained more of the variation in academic outcomes than did IQ More importantly, because self-discipline was not strongly related to IQ (r =.13, ns), self-discipline provided incremental predictive validity over and beyond IQ

39 Study 2: Self-Discipline Gives Girls the Edge

40 Underprediction Girls earn higher grades than boys in all subjects at all grade levels Girls do not consistently outperform boys on standardized tests of achievement or aptitude Hence, standardized tests tend to underpredict grades earned by girls and to overpredict grades earned by boys

41 Girls in our study earned significantly higher grades but not achievement test or IQ scores

42 Girls were more self-controlled

43 An advantage in self-discipline partially explains superior report card grades Gender Self-Discipline GPA ß =.26*** ß’ =.12* ß =.20**ß =.64*** (c.f. gender)

44 Adolescence is the perfect storm

45 The enigma of adolescence “I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting…” -Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale

46 Sensation seeking peaks in adolescence

47 Adaptation

48 Fostering self-discipline

49 William James “Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application.” - Talks to Teachers, 1899

50 Self-discipline may be more teachable IQ is very stable across the life course IQ is more heritable than personality IQ has proven very difficult to increase particularly in middle/high-SES kids

51 Two broad routes to fostering self-discipline Building capacity –Exercising the “muscle” of self-control –Attention training (including mindfulness) –Nutrition, exercise Teaching strategies that make best use of what “muscle” you have –Mischel –Gollwitzer

52 Exercising the muscle Exercising self-discipline is depleting –Chocolate chip cookie/anagram experiment Since self-discipline can be “tiring” by its exercise in the short-term, can it also be strengthened by exercise in the long-term? Is this the intuition behind sitting up straight, keeping kosher, and other cultural traditions? –e.g., sisu in Finland

53 Attention training Three attentional networks –Maintaining alertness –Orienting to visual and auditory stimuli, or where you look and what you listen to –Sustaining executive or voluntary control, or suppressing competing cognitions or emotions, to complete a task Rueda, Posner & Rothbart interventions Mindfulness and meditation Jonides interventions to increase working memory

54 Nutrition and Exercise Omega-3 fatty acids –Omega-3 (specifically DHA) makes up 6% of dry cerebral cortex. It influences functioning of the blood- brain barrier, enhances synaptic functioning, regulates the activity of membrane enzymes, protects neurons from cell death, influences cell size, stimulates neurite outgrowth, regulates serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission, and regulates gene expression –Supplementation has been shown to improve learning and memory in animals and learning in children Stable blood sugar levels Cardiovascular exercise

55 Strategy = a plan or method originally from the Greek strategia for military general

56 Insights from the Mischel lab Strategic use of distraction –Not looking at the marshmallow Cognitive transformation –Thinking of the marshmallow as a fluffy, white cloud Repeating the contingency –“If I wait, then I’ll get two!” Temptations are idiosyncratic

57 Applying these lessons Strategic use of distraction –Keep the wii out of sight and out of mind Cognitive transformation –Is homework a chore, a duty, or an opportunity? Repeating the contingency –If I turn this project in on time, I will improve my grade Temptations are idiosyncratic –Identifying Achilles' heel temptations

58 If-then planning Gollwitzer has shown that self-control is not helped much by “Try your best!” exhortations –Specific goals are more effective (e.g., “Complete your math homework every day.”) –When goals are specific, feedback is possible. An if-then plan specifies where, when, and how you will accomplish your goal –“If it is a weekday at 6pm, I will go to my room and open my book bag to do my work.” –And, “If my brother bothers me, I will…”

59 From strategies to habits “Our virtues are habits as much as our vices…our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folded, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds” --William James (1899)

60 Summary Self-control and IQ are not highly related Self-control can be more important to academic achievement than IQ Girls seem to have a slight advantage in self-discipline How can self-discipline be cultivated? You can build capacity or teach strategies – or both!

61 Thank you!

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