A longitudinal study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence attempted to replicate previous research finding that self-control was more important than intelligence in academic achievement. However, the present work found that intelligence was a significantly stronger predictor of teacher-reported academic competence and school-reported grades over a span of two years.
Duckworth and Seligman (2005) have previously reported that self-discipline (measured via self-control instruments) was key for academic achievement and “outdid” intelligence. Replication attempts have been limited, particularly outside North America, calling into question the generalizability of this finding. As well, the importance of other correlates and predictors of academic achievement (such as, student motivation, intelligence) have not been tested.
To address this gap in the literature, Alexander T. Vazsonyi and colleagues examined whether self-control was indeed a stronger predictor of academic performance, and of developmental changes in academic performance. They also tested whether academic motivation or perceived school attachment further explained academic performance above and beyond self-control and intelligence.
Intelligence is established as highly heritable, stable, and predictive of educational, occupational, and health outcomes. It involves an individuals’ capacity to compare, to reason by analogy, and to think logically regardless of prior knowledge.
Self-control refers to the ability to alter or override dominant response tendencies and regulate behavior, and to control impulses and consider consequences. Self-control is associated with internalizing and externalizing problems, academic and interpersonal success, as well as career prospects and success.
Data was obtained for 589 Czech adolescents in 6th and 7th grade from 9 schools partaking in the Brno Longitudinal Study of Youth. Control variables included sex, age, socioeconomic status (combining family income, and mother’s and father’s education), as well as family structure.
Self-control, school attachment, academic motivation, and intelligence were measured using a combination of student self-reports, teacher ratings, school administrative data on student achievement, and performance on Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices, which is designed to measure non-verbal intelligence. Data was collected over a span of two years, twice a year (including fall and spring semester), resulting in a total of four assessments.
Failing to replicate results by Duckworth and Seligman, Vazsonyi and colleagues found that self-control did not predict academic performance more strongly than intelligence, such that intelligence was a significantly greater predictor than self-control. They suggest the difference in these findings may be explained by the differences in measures of academic performance, as well as the focus on self-control, as opposed to the broader umbrella of “self-discipline”. Another possibility is that the effects of intelligence (vs. self-control) vary across cultures.
With regard to developmental changes in measures of academic performance, the researchers found that only intelligence predicted changes in both teacher-rated academic competence and school-reported grades over time. Although self-control had a smaller effect than intelligence, its contribution was still salient. And given self-control is malleable, and thus can be improved – more so than intelligence – this finding could have important policy implications.
The study, “Does Self-control Outdo IQ in Predicting Academic Performance?”, was authored by Alexander T. Vazsonyi, Magda Javakhishvili, and Marek Blatny.