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Conscientiousness and curiosity contribute to academic success (who knew?)

Doing the work and being prepared to be interested in it is as important to academic success as being clever, research shows

This post is mainly a long quote from a press release about a paper in Perspectives in Psychological Science, based on “a meta-analysis, gathering the data from about 200 studies with a total of about 50,000 students.” It’s one of those cases where loads of psychological effort goes into telling you stuff you knew perfectly well anyway – but it’s always good to get some evidence.

Note that traits like ‘conscientiousness’ and ‘curiosity’ are related to/part of the Big Five personality test model, and some views of personality traits like this are that they’re pretty static – you’re born conscientious or open to experience – or not – and that’s all there is to it. Others think that it’s much more dynamic – these traits can develop out of intention and experience. Either way, if you want to be a successful student, it’s worth developing/using/faking your conscientiousness and curiosity.

Intelligence is important to academic performance, but it’s not the whole story. Everyone knows a brilliant kid who failed school, or someone with mediocre smarts who made up for it with hard work. So psychological scientists have started looking at factors other than intelligence that make some students do better than others.

One of those is conscientiousness – basically, the inclination to go to class and do your homework. People who score high on this personality trait tend to do well in school. “It’s not a huge surprise if you think of it, that hard work would be a predictor of academic performance,” says Sophie von Stumm of the University of Edinburgh in the UK. She co-wrote the new paper with Benedikt Hell of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of Goldsmiths University of London.

Sophie von Stumm and her coauthors wondered if curiosity might be another important factor. “Curiosity is basically a hunger for exploration,” von Stumm says. “If you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods.” Both of these, she thought, could help you do better in school.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis, gathering the data from about 200 studies with a total of about 50,000 students. They found that curiosity did, indeed, influence academic performance. In fact, it had quite a large effect, about the same as conscientiousness. When put together, conscientiousness and curiosity had as big an effect on performance as intelligence.

I couldn’t find the original paper online (the Medical News Today version of the press release doesn’t give details, and it may still be in press), but here’s the web page of one of the authors:, which references more of her work.

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