Conscientiousness in the Classroom: A Process Explanation
Corker, Katherine S.
Oswald, Frederick L.
Donnellan, M. Brent
Although the research literature has established that Conscientiousness predicts task performance across a variety of achievement contexts (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991; OﾒConnor & Paunonen, 2007), comparatively less is known about the processes that underlie these relations. To the latter end, the current research examines effortful strategies and achievement goals as mediating factors that might explain why people with higher levels of Conscientiousness are predicted to reach higher levels of academic performance. In a longitudinal study, 347 college students completed measures of personality and achievement goals at the beginning of the class, followed by measures of effortful strategies multiple times throughout the semester. Results support the hypothesis that effortful strategies mediate the association between Conscientiousness and academic performance. Moreover, the statistical effects of Conscientiousness were generally independent of achievement goals, but a small portion of the effect was mediated through approach, not avoidance, achievement goals. These results highlight the importance of examining mediating processes between personality and outcomes, and in the case of Conscientiousness, our results suggest that effortful strategies might serve as a useful target for performance-enhancing interventions. Intelligence and hard work are often viewed as two essential ingredients for success in achievement contexts such as school and work. Consistent with this intuition, there is a well-established literature focusing on the connections between intelligence and performance (e.g., Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, & Barrick, 1999; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998), and a more recent history of research has pointed to the importance of Conscientiousness as a predictor of job performance that is relatively independent of intelligence (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991; Judge et al.,1999; Judge, Klinger, Simon, & Yang, 2008; Noftle & Robins, 2007; Roberts, Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007). Turning to the academic context, a recent meta-analysis found that Conscientiousness, in fact, was the only practically significant personality predictor of postsecondary performance (OﾒConnor & Paunonen, 2007). Additional research is now required to understand why Conscientiousness predicts outcomes by identifying and modeling the mediating mechanisms between Conscientiousness and academic performance outcomes. In the current study, we propose that Conscientiousness is related to the types of goals, study strategies, and work habits that in turn promote success in academic contexts. We test this proposed process-based explanation using longitudinal data collected from college students. Our perspective is informed by McAdams and Pals's (2006) integrative personality framework, which identifies three major levels of personality. The first level, dispositional traits, is probably the most dominant approach in contemporary personality psychology. This level captures ﾓbroad individual differences in behavior, thought, and feeling that account for general consistencies across situations and over timeﾔ (p. 212). The second level, characteristic adaptations, incorporates social-cognitive variables such as goals that are ﾓcontextualized in time, situations, and social rolesﾔ (p. 212). The third and most fine-grained level addresses life narratives, or the construction of life stories and the development of individual identities. Our investigation focuses on the first two levels, in that we use constructs from the achievement goal literature to help explain how Conscientiousness (a dispositional or trait construct) is linked with academic outcomes. Formulating process models that bridge these two levels provides an opportunity to develop a more integrative understanding by moving beyond the study of simple trait-to-outcome correlations in the domains of personality and educational research.