A recent longitudinal study shows that grit in the early age predicts school achievement and engagement later. Grit is not a personality trait, but it changes and develops during adolescence. The “Bridging the Gaps” project funded by the Academy of Finland studied for the first time the formation of grit and its meaning for adolescents’ school engagement and academic success.
The study conducted in international collaboration was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in April 2019. According to Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, who led the research, the most important finding of the study was that consistency of interest does not predict academic success and engagement by itself but only in combination with grit.
According to an earlier study conducted in the United States, grit has two separate dimensions. The first dimension is strong grit, the perseverance of effort in pursuing long-term goals, and the determination to continue one’s efforts in spite of adversity. The other dimension is strong consistency of interest, passion and the sense of significance.
“Grit means that a young person really invests in his or her studies and does not give up easily. A key element of grit is high persistence in the face of difficulties and setbacks. Significance, on the other hand, includes seeing the connection between one’s own efforts and more extensive goals, values and direction in life. The essential finding is that these factors together are the key to success and well-being. Mere purpose without grit does not lead to anything, but grit needs a purpose,” Salmela-Aro underscores.
According to Salmela-Aro, this is a significant result. “Our study shows the power of grit. The results persist even if we control for personality traits, such as conscientiousness and academic persistence. One key finding was also that, in these models, the impact of prior academic achievement and well-being was controlled for. This shows that grit significantly contributes to well-being and academic success.”
The formation of grit was followed among students from Helsinki, from sixth graders until the end of comprehensive school on the ninth grade, i.e. from age 12 to 16. The sample included more than 2000 students. The longitudinal study was controlled for the impact of gender and socio-economic status.
Can grit be built?
According to the study, the factor that best predicts grit is commitment to goals. If the adolescents lack commitment, they will not be able to take advantage of grit. In schools, learning can be transformed in such a way that goals are humanised and made important for students.
According to Salmela-Aro, current widely discussed topics include the relationship between cognitive and non-cognitive skills (social and emotional skills) and the direction in which school should be developed. “Grit is one of the essential social and emotional skills. According to our findings, social and emotional skills predict cognitive skills, in this case, future academic success.”
Salmela-Aro reports that a new OECD study is about to begin, focusing on the meaning of social and emotional factors for well-being and school performance in different countries. Researchers believe that, in the future, non-cognitive skills will become increasingly important.
According to Salmela-Aro, it is important to develop new interventions, practices and trials by which to enhance the grit of children and adolescents: “Young people should see the meaning of everyday school work as part of life in a broader context and establish achievable goals for themselves. School must also serve as a place where it is safe to fail and learn to cope with setbacks. One must not be discouraged by setbacks, but draw strength and new energy from them. Long live the Finnish grit!”
More information and inquiries
- Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, University of Helsinki, Marie Curie visiting professor, ETH Zurich, tel. +358 50 415 5283, katariina.salmela-aro(at)helsinki.fi, salmela(at)collegium.ethz.ch