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What is Conscientiousness, and Why Are Conscientiousness People More Likely to Succeed in School, at Work, and in Life?

What is Conscientiousness, and Why Are Conscientiousness People More Likely to Succeed in School, at Work, and in Life?
Welcome, it’s good to see you. At this session, you’ll learn about the power of self-motivation. Researchers have identified two kinds of self-motivation that are particularly powerful in predicting success, conscientiousness and grit. First, we’ll focus on conscientiousness and in a later session we’ll focus on grit. On the afternoon of May 12, 2008, one of the deadliest known earthquakes of all times hit China’s Sichuan Province, killing over 69,000 people. Nine year old Lin Hao and 29 other second grade students were at school when it struck. Although Lin Hao was one of the first students out of the collapsing school building, he ran back inside to save two of his classmates. Only nine of his classmates, including the two he saved, survived.
After the crisis, still aching from the injuries he sustained from the falling rubble, he was asked why he risked his life to rescue other students. He straightened his back and matter of factly replied, I was the classroom monitor, it was my job to look after my classmates. Lin Hao’s strong commitment to fulfilling his obligations represents the hallmark of conscientiousness. People who are conscientious hold themselves to high standards. They figure out what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it and they get it done. Their strength is that you can count on them. Conscientious people have both the ability and the willingness to fulfill their responsibilities. It’s helpful to think about the relationship between ability and willingness this way.
Ability is the can do, it’s your knowledge, your skills, your expertise, all the things that enable you to perform successfully and accomplish a goal if you choose to pursue it. You might say, I could get high grades if I wanted to study hard or I could start a new business if I put my mind to it. Will do refers to the motivation that enables you to turn your knowledge and skills into actions that get desired results. It sometimes involves putting a lot of effort in over a long period of time and persisting through challenges and hurdles.
You might say things like, whatever it takes I will graduate from college or whatever it takes I’m going to create this new art center downtown. Will do also means that you follow through on everyday commitments, such as getting back to people quickly when they ask you a question or getting projects completed on time. Now, there’s also opportunity. And opportunity refers to environmental opportunities and constraints that make it easier or harder for you to achieve your goals, regardless of whether you have the necessary skills and will.
Someone who is born into a family with resources, such as high income, educated parents and a home in a safe neighborhood with high quality schools, is more likely to have a better chance of achieving a high score on college admissions tests than someone who is born into a family without these resources.
Someone who works in a society that has laws or cultural norms, for example, a glass ceiling, that prevents or makes it harder for them to take on particular jobs may have a tougher time gaining relevant skills and getting access to opportunities that can help them achieve their goals. This certainly doesn’t mean that it’s always impossible for people who face this challenges to achieve their goals. There are plenty of people who had socioeconomic or other challenges who’ve been very successful, but it can take more determination, cleverness and support to do so. Researchers have been studying conscientiousness for over 35 years, and they’ve concluded that it’s one of the most significant predictors of success in academic and job performance.
Conscientious people tend to get higher grades and are more likely to graduate on time from high school and college. They are more likely to achieve their work goals, get promoted, be paid more, have higher quality work relationships and have more job satisfaction. They’re also likely to be happier, healthier and longer-lived. People who are conscientious share several qualities. They are achievement and goal-oriented. This means that they set high goals and high standards for themselves and others. They are reliable. They come through on their commitments because they take their obligations to people and organizations seriously. They are self-motivated, hard working and self disciplined. They persist until they finish what they start, despite challenges and setbacks.
And they’re willing to delay gratification in order to meet personal, team and organizational goals. They are planful and organized, they create systematic strategies for accomplishing their goals and they methodically move toward those goals. They are careful, they think before they act, they pay attention to details and they take time to learn the rules and they follow the rules when it’s appropriate to do so. They have a strong sense of duty and integrity. They strive to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy. It’s pretty easy to spot a conscientious person. They return their emails and phone calls promptly, they finish their work on time and they double check their work to ensure it meets high standards.
They arrive at meetings early and prepare. They sweat the small stuff and they don’t cut corners. Most people view others who are conscientious as trustworthy, responsible and dependable. Few would accuse them of being irresponsible, unreliable or impulsive. No wonder conscientiousness is one of the most consistent predictors of achievement throughout life. The importance of developing self-control, and the ability to delay gratification, are both qualities associated with conscientiousness. The importance of these characteristics was powerfully demonstrated in what are now called the marshmallow experiments. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, researcher, Walter Mischel, designed an experiment to assess childrens’ self control.
One by one, approximately 600 pre-schoolers from Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, were set up in a small room with a table, upon which there was a plate that had two treats on it, for example, pretzels, cookies or marshmallows. The researcher told the children that they could eat one treat now or wait 15 minutes and have both treats. Some people like the treat right away and the experiment was over for them. Other children decided they would try to wait, and the researcher left them in the room while they waited. The researchers watched the children from a one-way observation window, as the children employed clever strategies to avoid temptation.
Now, let’s watch some of the children who participated in a more recent version of the experiment.
way to show how children delay gratification. We tried it out with the four children we’d been following since September 2010. Alfie, Millie, Mekhi and Prathmesh.
Here is how it works.
We had each child on their own sit at the table, at a desk with a plate and one marshmallow. They could either choose to eat the marshmallow, the one marshmallow right then and there, or they could wait until I came back into the room and have two marshmallows. I left them alone in the room for 15 minutes. Take a look.
The marshmallow test has been used for decades by psychologists. It’s been used with children to predict later academic success, including literacy SAT scores and other academic outcomes. There’s no definitive answers from the marshmallow test, it’s not a matter of passing or failing.
What we’re looking for is whether children can really resist this piece of white candy sitting in front of them that’s sweet, the smell of it, the lure of the marshmallow. In Prathmesh case, we really saw this added curiosity because he had never actually tasted a marshmallow before. All of the children managed to show some level of self control and resist the temptation to eat the whole marshmallow. As you can see from the footage, you can catch a glimpse into children’s ability to control their impulses. This ability which is developed around the time of kindergarten can be linked to other outcomes later in life.
In the end the marshmallows were in kind of different states, some had been squished, ripped apart, nibbled around. There was this temptation and there was this impulse to kind of try it out.
About one-third of the children ate the treat right away. One-third waited an average of 3 minutes and one-third waited the full 15 minutes and earned the two treats. The average amount of time before the children ate their treat was about six minutes. Here’s where the results get even more interesting. Michel and his colleagues followed 95 of the children for several years. As teenagers, those who delayed the longest before eating the treat, in the original experiment, had Scholastic Aptitude Test scores that were on average, 210 points higher than the children who had the lowest delay times.
As adults, the highest delayers were more likely than the lowest delayers to achieve higher education levels, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid substance abuse. Concluding that it was important for children to be able to delay gratification, the researchers taught children skills in self control before engaging them in the marshmallow experiment. They taught the children strategies for psychologically distancing themselves from temptation by imagining the marshmallows as clouds, putting imaginary frames around the marshmallows to make them seem less real and more like inedible pictures. And thinking about something else completely unrelated to the treats.
The children who were taught these methods were much more likely to sit out the 15 minutes without eating the treat in front of them in order to earn the two treats. It seems like self control, like a muscle, can be strengthened. A few years ago, the marshmallow studies were given a makeover by researcher Celeste Kidd and her colleagues at the University of Rochester. Kidd redesigned the original studies based on her experiences volunteering at a homeless shelter. An environment in which possessions are often stolen and promises are often broken. She wondered whether children’s willingness to delay gratification would be influenced not simply by their personality but by their reasonable assessment of the reliability of the environment.
With this in mind, Kidd replicated the marshmallow studies with an added twist. They divided 28 children, ages three to five, into two groups. Before engaging the children in the traditional marshmallow experiment, the experimenters exposed half of the students to an unreliable environment. And the other half, to a reliable environment. In the first phase of the experiment, each child was brought alone into a room, and told they would be working on an art project. The child was given a box of worn out crayons, and the experimenter explain that the child could start using the crayons immediately. Or wait a few minutes until the researcher would bring in a fresh new set of art supplies.
In the reliable condition, the experimenter returned with a shiny new set of art supplies as promised. In the unreliable condition, the experimenter returned and apologized, saying, I’m sorry but I made a mistake. We don’t have any other art supplies after all. But why don’t you just use these instead, and left the child with the worn out crayons. Then each of the children participated in the traditional marshmallow experiment. Now watch what happened.
If I eat 100 marshmallows, I would be filled up? » Everybody knows that young children particularly toddlers, two to four year olds, are subject to impulsivity and it has been thought that that is a characteristic that children are born with. » Do you know what? It is snack time now. » And so what we wanted to know is whether or not some of these differences between children can be influenced by their own rational thought processes. » We wanted to manipulate children’s beliefs about how reliable the environment that they were in was. We assigned kids to one of two conditions, either the reliable condition or the unreliable condition.
So for the art supplies that you get to use, you actually have a choice. You can either use these crayons right now, or if you can wait for me to go get some from the other room, you can use our big set of art supplies instead. » The kids in the reliable condition, when the experimenter came back into the room had the better thing. And for the kids in the unreliable condition, the experimenter apologized and said she’d made a mistake, we didn’t have that available, and then helped them use the first option. » Listen, I’m so sorry but I actually don’t have that big set of art supplies I told you about.
Sorry about that, but you can still use these ones to make your project. » The classic example of a task in which children show impulsivity is what’s called the marshmallow test. » For your snack you have a choice, look what I’ve got. » Marshmallow! » Yeah, so wait, just a second, let me explain. So you can either eat this one marshmallow right now, or if you can wait for me to go get it from the other room, you can have two marshmallows instead. » I want two marshmallows. » And what we found, which was an incredibly large effect, the children who were in the unreliable group were more likely to fairly quickly pick up the marshmallow and eat it.
So on average, they waited about three minutes. » And did you know, I did not eat this marshmallow. » The children who were in the reliable group, waited four times longer. So they waited about 12 minutes. Which is an incredibly long time for young children to wait before they get a reward. » The differences may be due to a different in expectations about what’s likely to happen in the world. That’s what this experiment was designed to address. » Any three year old, self control is not necessarily the top of their [LAUGH] skill base. But in general, when she sets her mind that she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it.
In the marshmallow task, what you want to do is you want to get the most amount of marshmallow possible, but there may be other considerations. Given that I had this one marshmallow now that’s guaranteed, what are the chances that if I wait, there’s going to be a second marshmallow later? » If it was a teacher he had all the time that They would have that trust bond a little bit longer, then he’d probably wait longer. » One of the lines of work that evolved as a result of the marshmellow tasks was to look at the outcomes of children’s behavior later in life.
But something that’s been missing from the equation is this rational process by which children are accessing information in their environment. And making decisions about whether they should behave in the short term or behave in the long term. So if they’re in an environment in which long term gain is very rare, well, then, it makes perfect sense for them to behave impulsively, because that’s going to maximize their reward. » How’s it taste? » [SOUND] » A production of the University of Rochester. Please visit us online, and subscribe to our channel for more videos.
There are three main points to take away from these marshmallow experiments. First, self control and the ability to delay gratification. Both of which are characteristics of conscientiousness in childhood, are related to positive outcomes later in life. Second, self control and the ability to delay gratification can be learned. And third, deciding whether or not to delay gratification in a specific instance may be based on a rational assessment of whether or not waiting will result in future rewards. Now let’s turn to some of the benefits that conscientious people are likely to gain in life. Let’s begin with academic success. Doing well in school depends on what researchers call cognitive and non cognitive resources.
Cognitive resources include the ability, the can do, to score well on college entrance exams and general intelligence tests. Non cognitive resources include the motivation, the will do, to achieve good grades, work hard, turn in assignments on time, be a reliable team member. And stay focused on school work despite the many temptations that can easily lure students away from their studies. This explains why some students who score high in tests of cognitive abilities don’t necessarily achieve the academic success that others expect of them. And why students who don’t perform as well on these tests, often exceed expectations. Conscientiousness also predicts success at work.
Who would you rather have work for you, people who are self motivated, or people who need a lot of direction and reminders to do their work? People who have high standards for their work and complete it on time, or people who throw their work together haphazardly and submit it late? Not surprisingly, supervisors tend to rate conscientious people’s performance higher than others. Conscientious people are also more satisfied with their jobs.
Now, researchers have found that conscientious people tend to be more satisfied with their lives overall. Possibly because they live their lives in ways that make it more likely that they’ll be able to achieve their goals in life. And take care of themselves and the people they care about.
They also tend to make choices that promote good health. They are more likely to eat healthy, to exercise, and to wear their seatbelt. They’re more likely to have regular doctor appointments, comply with doctor recommendations, and take their medications as prescribed. They tend to engage in safer hobbies. And they are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drive dangerously Abuse alcohol or other substances, or engage in risky sexual behavior or violence.
In a landmark study of men and women who are studied from the time they were approximately ten years old until they died, researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin found that one of the most consistent and powerful predictors of longevity was conscientiousness. Martin also said that the most conscientious study participants tended to get nice opportunities in life. And so they went on to live some of the most exciting and interesting lives of anyone in the study.
So far it may seem as if I’m presenting conscientiousness as the magic formula for making all of your dreams come true. Well, not so fast, like anything else, conscientiousness can backfire when taken to extremes. Setting overly high standards for yourself and others can lead to micromanagement and impatience. Extreme conscientiousness can turn into unnecessary perfectionism, excessive rumination when making decisions and workaholism. In a four year study of over 9,000 people, researcher Christopher Boise and his colleagues found that the participants who were high in conscientiousness were also more likely to experience greater life dissatisfaction than those who were low in conscientiousness, when they became unemployed.
The researchers speculated that conscientious people may be particularly hard hit during periods of unemployment, because their identity may be more tied to their work. They may be more likely to feel like a failure. And they may miss the ability to use their strengths at work. Conscientiousness can also backfire when it’s not complimented with social skills. In a series of studies that included over 1400 employees, researches found that employees who were high in conscientiousness yet low in cooperativeness, helpfulness and courtesy were rated lower in effectiveness. Than those who are high and both, especially in jobs that required working closely with others.
So, if you find yourself staying at work, I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to get the job done. You may want to reconsider that statement.
What can you do to increase your consciousness? First, you can take the assessment that accompanies this session to determine your strengths and weaknesses in the area of conscientiousness. Second, you can identify one thing you will do to increase your conscientiousness. For example, you need to work harder, be more organized, be more punctual, or be more reliable. Third, you can remind yourself of your goal everyday. For example, you may write a reminder such as return email promptly or get to meetings on time on a Post-it note. And post it on your laptop for you likely to see it several times each day. Or create a screen saver with the same message.
Fourth, you’ll need to decide what specifically you will do every day to develop the skill. It’s ideal to focus on one skill at a time. And sometimes reading a book, searching for advice online, or taking a workshop can help. Fifth, you can manage the context by creating structures and habits, so that you don’t have to think about how you want to behave. For example, you can work in less distracted environments. You can set aside an hour or two at work every day to work on projects that require focus. You can set alarms to remind you to get to meetings on time. And you can use apps that will block you from going online for a specific period of time.
One well-known time management technique is the simple Pomodoro Technique. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo when he was a university student who had a hard time focusing on his studies. And it requires only a timer and your commitment to setting the timer for at least 25 minutes, and focusing on that task until the timer goes off. When I wrote my first book, I had a hard time staying focused on the book. One issue was that I had two small children at home. And I wanted to spend time with them. But the other issue was that I was easily distracted in ways that had nothing to do with the children. So I took a time management course and learned one technique.
It’s called logical stopping points, and that made all the difference. The technique was simple, don’t stop writing until I reach a logical stopping point, the end of a paragraph, the end of a page, or the end of a chapter. It seems simple, but it requires great deal of discipline for people like me who are easily distracted. Today, I use the concept of logical stopping points whenever I have a long term difficult goal to achieve. For example, designing a new course or planning a new workshop. And it continues to serve me very well. So now you know more about the power of conscientiousness and predicting success. Thanks for listening and learning about conscientiousness.
I look forward to seeing you at the next session in which we’ll discuss the power of grit.
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