This research summary looks at a paper co-authored by Angela Duckworth, that tries to carve conscientiousness at it joints.

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is present in most personality theories and measured by most personality inventories, the most famous of these being the Big Five or OCEAN model and as measured by Big Five Inventory (BFI)/ NEO-PI-R.
  2. Personality traits structure is supposed to be hierarchical with traits like Conscientiousness comprising of many finer aspects or facets. The NEO-PI-R is structured around 6 facets of conscientiousness, they being competence, order, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-discipline and deliberation.
  3. Conscientiousness predicts a number of important life outcomes, however the relationship of different facets with different outcomes is not well established; nor are the number of facets of Conscientiousness agreed upon.
  4. Thus Angela and colleagues set forth to find out what was the underlying facet level structure of Conscientiousness and which facets predicted which outcomes. For this they used exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis on data obtained from 291 adolescents. Conscientiousness was measured using items present in multiple scales from IPIP (international personality item pool).
  5. Exploratory factor analysis yielded an eight factor structure which was confirmed with confirmatory factor analysis.
  6. The eight factors were best described by the following construct labels: (a) Industriousness (“I make an effort”, “I am always prepared”); (b) Perfectionism (“I want to be the very best”, “I demand quality”); (c) Tidiness (“I like to tidy up”, “I leave a mess in my room” [reverse-keyed]); (d) Procrastination Refrainment (“I get to work at once”, “I am easily distracted” [reverse-keyed]); (e) Control (“I rush into things” [reverse-keyed], “I do unexpected things” [reverse-keyed]); (f) Cautiousness (“I think before I speak”, “I make careful choices”); (g) Task Planning (“I follow a schedule”, “I work according to a routine”); and (h) Perseverance (“I give up easily” [reverse-keyed], “I am easily discouraged” [reverse-keyed]).

  7.   Multiple outcomes of interest for the students were measured, these included absenteeism, CGPA, high stakes achievement results and teacher ratings of social behavior. All facets except tidiness predicted these outcomes. Perfectionism predicted scores in high stakes test even stronger than Conscientiousness as a whole. Industriousness predicted less absenteeism even strongly than Conscientiousness as a whole.
  8. Based on when the factors emerged and drawing a parallel with other lesser factor solutions, its apparent that following pairings can be done (my interpretation!) :
    1. Task planning (ordering tasks and time) and Tidiness (ordering possessions) make one group that can be called organization/orderliness. Task planning seems to be the dutifulness facet of NEO-PI-R.
    2. Cautiousness (prudence in VIA) and Control of impulses (self-regulation in VIA) make one group that is related to in-the-moment exercise of control, willpower and judgement. Cautiousness seems to be related to deliberation facet of NEO-PI-R.
    3. Industriousness (hard work {driven by harmonious passion?} where focus is on achieving quantity) and Perfectionism ( drive towards perfection {driven by obsessive passion?} where focus is on achieving quality) seem to make one group that is related to long term focus/ passion. Industriousness looks the same as Achievement-striving as per NEO-PI-R.
    4. Procrastination refrainment (decisiveness or starting things without waiting)  and perseverance (or finishing things that have been started, no matter what) seem to make the final group that is task-oriented. While procrastination refrainment seems like self-discipline of NEO-PI-R, Perseverance is more close to competence.
  9. To me the above eight factor structure of conscientiousness fits beautifully with my own ABCD model whereby I can see parallels with the Orderliness/organization related to Affect dimension and so forth.
  10. This research has real world implications. Given the limited time, if at all,  allotted by schools for positive education interventions, if one wants to increase odds of better outcomes, its wiser to focus on particular facets of Conscientiousness like industriousness, that are known to be associated with good outcomes, rather than poor predictor facets like tidiness, or even Conscientiousness as a whole.
  11. Bottom-line appears to be that teaching children tidy habits may be totally irrelevant,, in terms of valued life outcomes,  but making them appreciate the value of hard work and effort may really pay off!

if intrigued, here is the original paper.

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