A well-known theory of personality is the Big Five, which describes five characteristics that together give an indication of one’s personality. These five characteristics are:
- Openness: This refers to openness to experience, for example if one is adventures and curious. Also creativity and longing to novelty are part of openness.
- Conscientiousness: Being organized, having self-discipline, and plan activities rather than spontaneous act on them.
- Extraversion: Being social, energetic, assertive, and reach out to other individuals. Opposed is introversion, meaning that one is more reserved.
- Agreeableness: Being cooperative and sympathetic towards others. Also, trusting others and sometimes being naïve belongs to agreeableness.
- Neuroticism: High degree of experiencing negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and sadness. This is also referred as emotional unstable.
Together, these five characteristics are also referred to as OCEAN.
In terms of study success, several studies have investigated whether personality is related to study success and if so, which specific characteristics are important for better academic performances. It is expected that certain personality traits affect the way students approach their study, and hence influence their study results.
A consistent predictor that is found in the majority of studies is conscientiousness. It is the strongest predictor of the Big Five: Higher scores on conscientiousness relate to study success in terms of tertiary GPA (Conard, 2006; Proporat, 2009; Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012), and final grades and exam scores (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003; O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007). Some of these studies controlled for intelligence and found that even then, conscientiousness is still a predictor. There is still much discussion ongoing about whether or not the other traits are related to academic performance at all. Some studies found a positive relation between openness and study success (Farsides & Woodfield, 2003; O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007; Poropat, 2009) or agreeableness and study success (Farsides & Woodfield, 2003; Poropat, 2009), but these findings are inconclusive.
Besides the Big Five characteristics, narrow personality traits of these characteristics are also important for predicting study success. O’Connor and Paunonen (2007) found that especially self-discipline, achievement-striving behavior (i.e., ambition), and curiosity are positively related to academic achievements. Additionally, impulsivity and anxiety are negatively related to academic achievements (O’Connor & Paunonen, 2007). The meta-analysis of Richardson et al. (2012) further showed a positive relation between need for cognition (i.e., wanting to engage in effortful cognitive processing) and study success and emotional intelligence (i.e., understanding and using emotions during thinking processes) and study success. However, these traits are likely so difficult to identify due to their abstract nature, the challenge for researchers is to adequately quantify and measure them.
All in all, personality – especially being conscientious – is related to academic success. However, two remarks need to be made: 1) correlations that are found are generally small, and 2) other factors, such as motivational factors, seem to be a stronger predictor for study success then personality (Richardson et al., 2012). There is some discussion about whether some motivational factors, like self-efficacy, are a trait or not. Self-efficacy (i.e., believe in one’s own capabilities) is one of the strongest predictors of study success (Richardson et al., 2012).
Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Furnham, A. (2003). Personality predicts academic performance: Evidence from two longitudinal university samples. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 319-338.
Conard, M. A. (2006). Aptitude is not enough: How personality and behavior predict academic performance. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 339-346.
Farsides, T., & Woodfield, R. (2003). Individual differences and undergraduate academic success: the roles of personality, intelligence, and application Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1225-1243.
O'Connor, M. C., & Paunonen, S. V. (2007). Big Five personality predictors of post-secondary academic performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 971-990.
Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 322-338.
Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students’ academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 353-387.