Being Confident as a Child Might Have Made You Better at Math

New research shows children's personalities linked to academic performance.
Jessica Miley

New research shows that children's personalities might affect the way they perform in science and maths. 

Psychology researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found that personality traits such as such as intellectual curiosity and confidence, made children more adept to take on math and reading than characteristics typically used to describe conscientiousness, such as diligence and perseverance. 

"Our findings provide additional knowledge on the complex set of skills that interact and give rise to differences in academic achievement between children, as well as the complexity of genetic architecture of academic achievement, which is made of many parts beyond intellect," said the study's lead author, Margherita Malanchini, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology and the Population Research Center at UT Austin. 

Self-regulation key to success

Previous studies into similar territory found that difference in academic skills in children was linked to the difference in the children's ability to self regulate. 

The children's ability to control their behaviors and internal states against conflict and distracting environments resulted in different affinities for different subjects. 

However, the idea of self-regulation is very broad and incorporate intellectual abilities as well as personality traits. To dig more deeply into the concept of self-regulation and how it contributes to the difference in ability across children and learning the researchers collected data from more than 1,000 twins, ages 8-14, in the Texas Twin Project. 

The project is a large population-based twin study directed by UT Austin psychology associate professors Elliot Tucker-Drob and Paige Harden. Studying twins allows researchers to observe the impact of both genetic and environmental factors in the connection between self-regulation and academic skills. 

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Links between the ability to plan and proficiency in reading

The researchers found a strong relationship between the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks, skills known as executive functioning and competence in reading and math. 


The link was primarily related to genetic factors. The same children with high levels of executive functioning were more likely to display traits of openness, intellectual curiosity and confidence. 

The links were determined to be 60 percent shared genetic factors and 40 percent environmental factors. Interesting the researchers could not find the same links for personality characteristics describing how conscientious and diligent a child is. 

"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 Tucker-Drob, who, along with Harden, is a faculty research associate in the university's Population Research Center. 

The study has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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