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Study Shows the Factors of Success Beyond the Intellect
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In a prospective longitudinal study by Duke University and the United States Military Academy of more than 11,000 West Point cadets, researchers discovered that both cognitive and non-cognitive factors can predict long-term achievement.

The study highlights how characteristics like intelligence, grit, and physical capacity each influencing a person’s ability to succeed in different ways.

For each student, the researchers looked at grit score as measured by the 12-item Grit Scale created by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, entrance exams as delineated by either SAT or ACT scores, and results from a battery of fitness tests.

The fitness tests included a one-mile run, pull-ups, and sit-ups.

West Point also provided data on whether cadets completed the Beast Barracks training and graduated from the academy, as well as their GPAs for academic, military, and physical performance.

Duckworth and colleagues then conducted a mega-analysis incorporating all these data.

“This is a sign of where science is going, toward big samples. They offer much more precision,” says Duckworth.

“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.”

Specifically, Duckworth and her team discovered that different personal characteristics predict different outcomes.

During Beast Barracks, for example, grit is crucial. “The grittier you are, the less likely you are to drop out during that very discouraging time,” Duckworth explains.

But during the four years of combined classroom time and physical training that follow, cognitive ability is the strongest predictor of academic grades.

Finally, grit and physical ability play a greater role than cognitive ability in determining who will graduate from West Point in four years versus who might leave before then.

“This work shows us that grit is not the only determinant of success,” Duckworth says. “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.”

However, this study raises the issue regarding what are the practical implications, particularly for fields like human resources or university admissions?

The findings add to the canon of overall knowledge about what factors predict success and they also strengthen Duckworth’s original theories about grit and, at the same time, highlight other attributes that are key to long-term achievement.

“If you want to lead a happy, healthy, helpful life,” Duckworth says, “you want to cultivate many aspects of your character, like honesty, kindness, generosity, curiosity” — and, of course, grit.

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