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Willpower over IQ

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A psychologist with the evocative name of Cordelia Fine reports on some recent research into academic success that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise:

    Psychologists Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman descended on the eighth grade of a large public school in the northeast of the US. As the autumn leaves fell, each of the 160-odd children took an IQ test, then they (and their parents and teachers) answered questionnaires that probed self-control. Are you good at resisting temptation, they were asked. Can you work effectively towards long-term goals? Or do pleasure and fun sometimes keep you from getting work done?

    The children were also given a real-life test of their ability to delay gratification. Each was handed a dollar bill in an envelope. They could choose either to keep it or hand it back and get $2 a week later. Their decision was carefully recorded.

    The researchers returned in spring. They took note of each child’s grades and then looked back to see both how clever, and how self-controlled, that student had been in autumn. What, they wanted to know, was the most important factor in school grades?

    The psychologists discovered it was self-control, by a long shot. A child’s capacity for self-discipline was about twice as important as his or her IQ when it came to predicting academic success.

    At first glance, research of this sort is a comfort to those of us not exploding with raw talent. The science seems to back up the writer Kingsley Amis’s well-known advice that “the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair”. Why, in that case anyone can write a book. Yet a small problem remains; namely, the problem of keeping the seat of one’s trousers applied to the seat of one’s chair.

    Amis kept to an “unflinching schedule” of 500 words a day, according to The Guardian. (No doubt the young Amis would have returned the seductive single dollar bill to the researcher with barely a hesitation.) But just as we all have different levels of physical endurance so, too, do we differ in the strength of our will.


Written by Admin

June 23, 2006 at 8:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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