sets. Some of the evidence we present is correlational in nature, and we call these “simple correlations.” Other evidence is longitudinal, in which competencies and other capacities measured at one point are related to outcomes measured years later, often after adjusting for individuals’ differences in family backgrounds. We call these “adjusted correlations” and view this evidence as more suggestive of causal connections than the evidence from simple correlations, but still prone to biases from a variety of sources. The strongest causal evidence, particularly the evidence of the impacts of years of completed schooling on adult outcomes, comes from statistical methods that are designed to approximate experiments.


Many more studies of school success have focused on the role of general cognitive ability (IQ) than specific interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies (see Table 3-1). Economists tend to lump all competencies other than IQ into the category of “noncognitive skills.” Personality and developmental psychologists have developed a much more refined taxonomy of them.

Most personality psychologists have centered their work on the “big five” personality traits—conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and extroversion—plus general cognitive ability. Although these traits have traditionally been viewed as relatively stable across the life span, a growing body of evidence indicates that that personality traits change in response to general life experiences (e.g., Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer, 2006; Almlund et al., 2011) and to structured interventions (see Chapters 4 and 5).

Developmental psychologists have a dynamic view of competence and behavioral development, with children’s competencies and behaviors determined by the interplay between their innate abilities and dispositions and the quality of their early experiences (National Research Council, 2000). Both groups have investigated associations among cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies and children’s success in school.

Personality Factors and School Success

The comprehensive Almlund et al. (2011) study of personality and attainment offers the following summary of “prediction” evidence on correlations and, in some cases, adjusted correlations between personality traits and educational attainment (see also Table 3-1):

Measures of personality predict a range of educational outcomes. Of the Big Five, Conscientiousness best predicts overall attainment and achieve-

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