2 Personality Traits That Are Vital For Success

The personality traits that help cadets graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point.

The personality traits that help cadets graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point.

Grit and intelligence are two personality factors vital for success, research suggests.

Grit is the trait of perseverance and passion that keeps people working towards long-term goals.

While higher intelligence helps people succeed at certain activities, it may be grit that really propels people over the line.

The conclusions come from a study of over 11,258 cadets entering the US Military Academy at West Point.

Professor Angela Duckworth, the study’s first author, said:

“I was looking for a context in which people might be quitting too early.

There’s such a thing as quitting at the right time.

But there’s also such a thing as quitting on a bad day when you’re discouraged and maybe shouldn’t be making such a big decision.”

All cadets entering the Academy in nine successive years completed measures of grit, plus the researchers had access to cognitive scores and tests of physical abilities.

Professor Duckworth said:

“We accumulated all this data in part so we could answer more definitively the question of whether grit predicted success outcomes.

We now have more confidence in our original conclusions.

At the same time, we wanted to explore where, perhaps, grit wasn’t the most important factor.”

The results showed that the trait of grit was most useful to cadets during ‘Beast Barracks’, a six-week initiation during which 3 percent of cadets drop out.

Professor Duckworth said:

“The grittier you are, the less likely you are to drop out during that very discouraging time.”

In classroom activities it was intelligence that mattered most.

To graduate from West Point, though, a combination of grit and physical ability was more important than cognitive abilities.

Professor Duckworth said:

“This work shows us that grit is not the only determinant of success.

Yes, it’s very important, helping people stick with things when they’re hard, but it’s not the best predictor of every aspect of success.”

Fascinatingly, the higher cadet’s cognitive abilities, the lower their grit.

Smarter people seem to have less determination to overcome the odds, perhaps because they face fewer challenges.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Duckworth et al., 2019).


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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.