Any teacher can tell you that smarts alone do not a good student make. But psychologists had never rigorously studied the connection between self-discipline and academic success, says former teacher Angela L. Duckworth, now a psychology graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Duckworth and her adviser, Martin E. P. Seligman, gave 300 eighth graders, their teachers and their parents a questionnaire about the students’ ability to control impulses and follow rules. They also gave the children another questionnaire and behavioral test to assess their willingness to delay gratification. The reported self-discipline predicted final grades, school attendance and work habits better than IQ did. Moreover, the stronger the discipline, the better the outcomes.
The results could encourage young students to toe the line. Still, the research method may not be practical for routinely evaluating children, Duckworth says. “The effort that’s involved in a study like this is kind of humongous.”