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Success requires more than just intelligence, new study finds

Researchers at the University of Adelaide and the University of Bristol set out to investigate the role that non-cognitive skills such as conscientiousness and perseverance may play in life achievement. The experts found that these skills may be just as important as cognitive ability for success in school and in the workforce.

The study is the first of its kind to review the entire literature on the value of non-cognitive skills in children under the age of 12, such as the impact these skills have on later life outcomes including academic achievement and language ability.

Study senior author John Lynch is a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Adelaide.

“Traits such as attention, self-regulation, and perseverance in childhood have been investigated by psychologists, economists, and epidemiologists, and some have been shown to influence later life outcomes,” said Professor Lynch. “There is a wide range of existing evidence underpinning the role of non-cognitive skills and how they affect success in later life but it’s far from consistent.”

Study co-author Professor Lisa Smithers added: “There is tentative evidence from published studies that non-cognitive skills are associated with academic achievement, psychosocial, and cognitive and language outcomes, but cognitive skills are still important.”

The researchers pointed out that the quality of evidence in this field of study is less than adequate. Out of over 550 relevant studies, only around 40 percent were found to be of sufficient quality.

“So, while interventions to build non-cognitive skills may be important, particularly for disadvantaged children, the existing evidence base underpinning this field has the potential for publication bias and needs to have larger studies that are more rigorously designed,” said Professor Lynch. “That has important implications for researchers and funding agencies who wish to study effects of non-cognitive skills.”

The findings suggest that school administrators and teachers should seek out more opportunities to promote valuable non-cognitive skills such as determination, motivation, self-directed learning, collaboration, communication, and attentiveness.

The study is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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