Gritty individuals may be better at self-control and exhibiting “cautious control,” but they are not necessarily more intelligent.
According to a recent examination of the personality characteristic “grit,” individuals with greater levels of this quality also exhibited altered patterns of cognitive function, but not necessarily improved cognitive function. These results were recently published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Nuria Aguerre of the University of Granada, Spain, and associates.
A person with grit is someone who perseveres admirably in the face of obstacles to achieve long-term objectives. The Grit Scale is a commonly used assessment instrument by researchers to quantify it. No studies have specifically looked at the connection between grit and specific components of cognitive functioning, despite earlier research suggesting such a connection.
Aguerre and colleagues asked 134 research participants to fill out questionnaires, including the Grit Scale, which assesses personality traits based on three characteristics: grit, impulsiveness, and mindfulness. Four additional experimental computer-based tasks were also completed by the participants to assess various aspects of cognitive ability, such as flexibility, inhibition, the capacity to replace outdated items in one’s working memory—which temporarily stores information—with more recent, relevant ones, and the tendency for control mode.
Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, a statistical examination of the experimental and questionnaire data showed that grit scores were not always correlated with overall cognitive ability. In contrast, grit was statistically associated with the personality qualities of low impulsivity and high mindfulness, both of which are connected to self-regulation. This finding is consistent with previous studies.
However, albeit to a lesser statistical extent, participants high in grit did show different patterns of cognitive performance. The researchers characterized this cognitive profile as showing cautious control: an enhanced ability to pay attention to all available information and remain sensitive to conflicting information in the present moment while relying less on earlier information.
Overall, these findings suggest that different patterns of cognitive ability—not necessarily greater ability—may underlie grit. This is in line with other researchers’ previously proposed ideas. The researchers describe this study as exploratory and suggest that future research could delve deeper, such as by including a more comprehensive measure of grit and by also considering a cognitive ability known as fluid intelligence.
The authors add: “To crown the top of the mountain you do not need very good executive functions. You should be aware of the environment instead.”
This work was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the Andalusian Government (Fondos FEDER) grants: doctoral research Grant ES-2016-078667 to NA; PSI2015-65502-C2-1-P, A.CTS.111.UGR18 and PGC2018-093786-B-I00 to TB; and PSI2015-65502-C2-2-P to CG-A. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Reference: “The relative role of executive control and personality traits in grit” by Nuria V. Aguerre, Carlos J. Gómez-Ariza and M. Teresa Bajo, 22 June 2022, PLoS ONE.