Why grit is overrated (and genes are underrated)

These findings, the researchers noted in the British version of the study, “turn some of the fundamental assumptions about education upside down.” While intelligence may be genetic, achievement has always been thought to be due to the environmental influences of home and school. The non-cognitive components of school success include traits such as self-efficacy and motivation, curiosity, emotional intelligence, conscientiousness, well-being and prosocial behaviour. But an increasing weight of evidence shows that these traits are substantially heritable, too. As researchers say, “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence.” In other words, grit does matter to success – but the stuff we think of as grit is made up of characteristics that people are largely born with (or not). Efforts to teach it make very little difference.


Educators and politicians are heavily invested in the blank-slate theory. They are always looking for the magic bullet (pre-K, incessant testing, common core, and – the newest craze – computer programming for all) that will be the Great Equalizer. [She forgot to mention STEM! SRP] Once they find it, our children will not only survive but flourish in the competitive, high-tech, highly cognitively weighted 21st-century. The new deluge of findings from behavioural genetics are an icy bath for people who believe that we could iron out all the inequalities of society if only we adopted the right policies. But these findings should also be discomforting to conservatives who believe that kids who don’t do well in school just need to pick up their socks and shape up – and that lousy teachers, lousy schools and lousy parents are to blame.


Stephen By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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