One of the main areas of psychological research on academic success is the study of personality types that bring about higher academic achievement. It is assumed and proven that personality traits lie at the foundation of a student’s academic success and behaviour.
In the majority of international research studies, a five-factor personality model is used, thanks to which links are identified between students’ psychological traits and their academic performance. Overall, this concerns such traits such as agreeableness, openness to experience, appetite for risk and the effect of these factors on various indicators of academic performance.
Ekaterina Kochergina is a research assistant at HSE’s International Research Laboratory for the Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms (LIA). Ekaterina Orel is an associate professor in HSE’s Department of Organizational Psychology of the Faculty of Psychology. Together the two tried to identify the relationship between the psychological characteristics of Russian university students and their academic performance.
The study was called “The Psychological Predictors of Academic Performance among University Students” and saw the participation of 176 students from HSE’s Nizhny Novgorod campus. There were 128 second- and third-year students from the Economics Faculty, 44 students form the Business Informatics Faculty and an additional 136 students from HSE’s Perm campus.
Students’ grade-point average from their time in the bachelor’s programme was used to measure academic performance. Students’ personality traits were measured using the questionnaire from the “Big Five” personality model (Big5). As its name suggest, this model is based on five personality traits that fully describe human behaviour and are stable over time: Agreeableness, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion and Neuroticism. Each of these has two extremes: extraversion- introversion, agreeableness- independence, conscientiousness- impulsivity, neuroticism-emotionality, openness to experience – conservatism.
“When a person studies, on the one hand specific personality traits take shape; on the other, his or her personality traits lie at the foundation of academic style, performance, and building certain relationships with instructors and classmates. In surveying our students [the questionnaire consisted of 50 questions on the similarities of certain statements], we wanted to understand how character traits affect their studies or if achievements depend only on abilities, pre-university preparation, intellect and the desire to study,” Kochergina said when presenting the study.
The results of the study turned out to be unexpected. It became clear that the personality traits of Russian students did not have an overall significant impact on academic performance at the university. At the same time, similar studies in the West distinguished a clear connection between the majority of personality traits and academic achievements.
In an overwhelming majority of studies, conscientiousness and openness to experience were always connected with good academic performance. The concept “inclination for risk” yielded various results depending on interpretation – if this is interpreted as a tendency toward antisocial behaviour (Takakura, Wake et al., 2010, Richardson, Radziszewska et al., 1993), then its connection with academic performance is negative. If this is, however, interpreted as openness to new experience (Reimers-Hild, 2007), then the connection is positive.
Russian researchers discovered that only openness to experience is connected with students’ academic performance.
“It seems that this trait is important in all years and faculties since it is in some sense universal for different subjects. Openness to experience is connected with students’ deeper approach towards learning. Other personality traits are not connected with academic performance,” Kochergina noted.
The findings of the study contribute to the substantial literature on the connection between personality traits and academic performance. “We are showing that, firstly, academic performance is practically not connected with a single personality trait, but secondly, certain psychological characteristics are meaningful for students throughout the entire period of learning, though they do not change depending on the academic environment,” Kochergina concluded.