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Penn Psychology professor Angela Duckworth found that cognitive ability is negatively correlated with physical ability and grit.

Credit: Audrey Tirtaguna

Penn Psychology professor Angela Duckworth and a group of colleagues published new research finding that grit is not always the most important predictor of long-term achievement.

The study, which focused on more than 10,000 students at the United States Military Academy, found that cognitive abilities were the best predictor of academic and military grades, but physical ability and grit were more important for making it through the grueling initiation training.

Like her previous research, Duckworth and her team used what she calls the “Grit Scale," a survey composed of 12 items, featuring questions that measure whether setbacks discourage an individual and whether a person never gives up.

The study found cognitive ability is negatively correlated with physical ability and grit, while concluding physical ability and grit are positively correlated with one another. Duckworth also found that students with the very highest levels of cognitive and physical ability were less likely to graduate from West Point.

Duckworth said her team found that while grit is important in making people persist on difficult tasks, she told Penn Today "it’s not the best predictor of every aspect of success.”

Duckworth has conducted extensive work on the concept of grit, leading to her New York Times bestselling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” The book teaches readers that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence" called grit, according to her website.

“We accumulated all this data in part so we could answer more definitively the question of whether grit predicted success outcomes,” Duckworth told Penn Today. “We now have more confidence in our original conclusions. At the same time, we wanted to explore where, perhaps, grit wasn’t the most important factor.”

The study was done in conjunction with a group of professors and researchers from Penn, Duke University, and West Point.

In an extension of her book, research, and work at Penn, Duckworth is set to teach a pioneer course entitled “Grit Lab: Fostering Passion and Perseverance” this spring. The course will focus on students developing a passion and then building grit to continue with that passion.