PhotoAll parents want their children to succeed -- especially academically. And while studying and tutors are certainly beneficial, a new study shows that the ability to excel academically comes from kids’ own personality traits.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that characteristics like confidence and intellectual curiosity are what help children succeed in reading and math.

“Our findings provide additional knowledge on the complex set of skills that interact and give raise to differences in academic achievement between children, as well as the complexity of generic architecture of academic achievement, which is made of many parts beyond intellect,” said lead author Margherita Malanchini.

Power of personality

The researchers conducted their study on twins in an effort to see what characteristics led to the highest levels of academic achievement.

The study included over 1,000 twins between the ages of eight and 14, all of whom were part of the Texas Twin Project -- a population-based study run by the psychology department at UT Austin.

In previous research, experts believed that children were more likely to succeed at school if they were able to self-regulate, or stay behaved and focused regardless of any other distractions. However, upon further inspection, self-regulation didn’t account for other characteristics that were found to be critical to achievement.

One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that the children that were the most dedicated and conscientious weren’t the ones who were receiving all the accolades. Rather, children who were able to be well-organized, plan, and fully complete tasks were more likely to succeed academically. They were also typically more confident and open-minded.

These findings show that it’s not all about self-regulation in the classroom, as many psychologists had previously thought.

“This indicates that some of the genetic factors that predispose children to do well in school are also the same genetic factors that predispose children to be more open to new challenges, creative, intellectually curious, and confident in their own academic ability,” said researcher Elliot M. Tucker-Drob.

Fostering academic success

Psychology experts all have their own theories as to why some children perform better in school than others. Whether it’s birth order or inherent motivation, or this most recent study that believes it’s all about genetic personality traits, our reasons for behaving a certain way come with several different sources.

One recent study found that harsh parenting is not the answer when it comes to improving children’s academic performance. Children whose parents often yelled, threatened, or hit them were more likely to shirk school responsibilities to pay more attention to their friends. Many also don’t achieve as much academically over the long-term.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, focusing too much on achievement can be detrimental to children.

Researchers found that students who attended high schools that placed a strong emphasis on academic achievement were more likely to struggle later in life. As many as five decades after high school, these students had lower incomes and fewer educational and career achievements.


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