Posts tagged self-control

The Making of a Genius: Required Ingredients

What goes into the making of a genius? More mundanely, what factors are required for success in any field? Your answer will differ based on what factors you consider to be the most important for success.

Photo of the obverse of a Fields Medal made by...

Photo of the obverse of a Fields Medal made by Stefan Zachow for the International Mathematical Union (IMU), showing a bas relief of Archimedes (as identified by the Greek text) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one can deny the large role that intelligence and talent play in the making of a genius, or to achieve moderate levels of success compared to peers. We can probably club these two factors together as ability, that is more or less inborn, and is not very easy to increase or amenable to interventions.

Let me be a be it more specific. I consider ability to be made of two components: specific talent in a particular domain, say singing talent or mathematical talent; and fluid intelligence, or the ability to solve problems in real time using cognitive resources like working memory and typically measured by IQ. While talent is domain specific, fluid intelligence is domain general, but both will be required to be successful in a domain. Intelligence (fluid) will enable one to learn at an exceptional rate and also to learn form ones mistakes and improve.

Both talent and intelligence have been shown to explain up to 50 % of variance, in say, academic performance. Thus they are definitely required to achieve extraordinary success/ genius.

However, another stream of research informs us that putting in 10,000 hours or more of deliberate practice is what does the magic. As per research by Andres Ericsson and colleagues to achieve and expertise in any domain you need 10,000 hours or more of focused, deliberate practice. Here two things are important to note:  you are not putting in brute force efforts blindly, but following a process of deliberate practice (picking up a weakness, working on it constantly to improve soliciting feedback etc) and the second is that you do put in more than 10,000 hours of such efforts to attain some expertise and then again 10,000 hours more to achieve genius level expertise.

Thus, one can subsume these factors under the common label effort: comprising of a daily ritual of deliberate practice or Riyaaz or smart efforts; and a long term fruits of putting in 10,000 or 20,000 hrs of such efforts in the form of expertise or domain specific crystallized intelligence.

Both indulging in deliberate practice daily and building expertise by putting in the required hours are correlated with genius level expert performance or success.  In more mundane terms, if you really want to make contributions to mathematics such that they deserve a Fields Medal, you need to systematically work on which areas of Maths need improving and actually spend hours daily honing your maths skills for a few years before hoping to get one.

and of course as Angela Duckworth says, talent * effort = skill and skill* effort = performance, so effort counts twice and is an important determinant of success.

But this brings us to the question is effort same as grit, another factor that has been shown to predict success/ achievement/ genius?

While to the naive mind they may appear same; to me effort is willingness and ability to work smart and work hard; while grit is more about being passionate about a particular super-ordinate goal and getting back on track and showing persistence in the face of setbacks/ adversity.

And of course another personality factor or character strength that is similarly predictive of success is self-control. Self-control is the ability to resist temptations and forego pleasure-in-the-now for gains-in-the-future. It reliably predicts success in many domains and is domain general trait.  Grit however is more domain specific. Also while Self-control works on a shorter time scale, Girt works on a longer time scale.

Both can be subsumed under goal-commitment: a in the moment domain general self control factor and a long term domain specific grit factor.

And this brings us to the final set of factors which are equally important for success: enjoying and being engrossed in what you are doing and being curious/exploratory about the things you don’t know/ haven’t experienced yet. These are emotional-motivational processes that ensure that you actually do put in the efforts required to meet the goal commitments and to actualize your ability.

Recent research has shown that a hungry mind is very important for predicting academic success. This hungry mind is conceptualized as intellectual curiosity. Curiosity as initially defined by Todd Kashadan et al was comprised of Exploration (or Curiosity as they define now per se) and Absorption. Later Todd et al have disowned absorption as a part of curiosity, and they are right to do so, but given the high correlations between  absorption and exploration, I think they were on to something. Important for us is to remember that curiosity or the appetitive strivings for novelty, complexity,uncertainty and ambiguity; and Absorption or flow or full engagement in specific activities, taken together are again strong predictors of success/ achievement.

Thus, we have a fourth big factor predicting and causing success, viz Engagement: one sub-factor of which is a domain/ task specific flow or absorption and the other a domain general or task independent curiosity or love of learning or intrinsic motivation.

With that we can probably summarize the ingredients required to make a genius:

  1. Ability, both talent and intelligence
  2. Effort, both daily deliberate practice and 10,000 hours of expertise
  3. Goal commitment, both self control and grit
  4. Engagement, flow as well as curiosity

As an aside, this fits my ABCD model: Engagement or flow/curiosity are Affective in nature; Effort is Behavioral; Ability (intelligence) I consider as Cognitive and goal-commitment as Dynamic/motivational.

So, what are you going to do different to achieve extraordinary performance after having learned this? Will you work on your curiosity, put in more hours of deliberate practice , ensure you are feeling flow and absorption or work or your self-control muscle. There are many paths to greatness, and you can choose to focus on one or more to take you where you need to be!

Research Summaries: Can Adolescents Learn Self-control? Delay of Gratification in the Development of Control over Risk Taking

Today’s research summary is based on a paper by Angela Duckworth and colleagues, and examines the nature of self-control as assessed by risk-taking, sensation-seeking, future time perspective and delay of gratification in US adolescents.

  1. Adolescents are known to indulge in risk taking activities like recreational drug use and various theories abound as to why adolescence is a particularly sensitive time.
  2. As per one theory, there is a dopamine surge in reward centers of the brain during adolescence which leads to impulsive sensation seeking behavior. Traditionally, it is believed that the prefrontal cortex , which can override such impulsive behavior, does not mature in teenage and continues to mature till late thirties, and thus unable to self-regulate behavior in the teenage adequately.
  3. The above view posits that there is not much one can do about impulsive and risk taking behavior as the brain will take its own sweet time to mature; another view suggests that there are two independent processes involved in risk taking behavior- an underlying propensity to indulge in impulsive sensation seeking behavior (which can be considered as the accelerator moving one towards risk taking behavior)  and an ability to delay gratification in service of long term goals (which can be considered as the brakes which moves one away from risk taking behaviors).
  4. Literature review suggests that sensation seeking is uncorrelated with delay of gratification and both may independently impact risk taking behavior. It was unclear from prior research if delay of gratification can be an effective brake even in adolescents who were very high on sensation seeking. Also future time perspective, or the tendency to think about future more than present, is related to reduced risk taking, but the effect may be mediated by ability to delay gratification (because that ability directly depends on an ability to visualize the future) .
  5. 900 US adolescents were administered a delay discounting task (choice between larger reward later and a smaller reward now)  to ascertain their ability to delay gratification. Their sensation seeking and future time perspective was measured using self-report measures.  Risk taking was again measured using self report about three risky behaviors viz cigarette smoking, marijuana use, and binge drinking.Structural equation modeling was used to determine the relation between all variables.
  6. As expected, sensation seeking in teens and delay of gratification were uncorrelated; delay of gratification predicted less risk taking behavior, future time perspective also predicted less risk taking behavior , but not over and beyond its impact on delay of gratification.  Sensation seeking peaked around age 18 and then started decreasing;  future time perspective kept increasing with age; and temporal discounting showed an upward trend with age.
  7. For teens that were high in sensation seeking, their temporal discounting increased with age more sharply.  The authors explained this due to the fact that teens who were high in sensation seeking would indulge in more risky behavior and on getting negative feedback from environment on these behaviors will learn to self-regulate and increase delay of gratification.
  8. From this research it seems there are at least two routes to increase your temporal discounting muscle and hence reduce your risk taking behavior. The first approach is to become explicitly future focused and have a stronger future time perspective; the second approach is to explore, experiment and learn from your mistakes as your risk taking backfires. If done in a conducive environment, like graded driving tests, then this can lead to good outcomes.

I found the paper pretty interesting as it clearly dissociates the tow mechanisms that lead to risky behavior. If you found the above interesting, check out the paper here.

Research Summaries: Self-controlled children stay leaner in the transition to adolescence

This research summary is similar to the earlier one where self-control predicted overweight status; Angela and team have co-authored a similar paper, though based on a different data set and controlling for more confounds.

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) wit...

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) with Central Obesity, side view.Self Made Picture of an Obese Teenager (Myself) (146kg/322lb) with Central Obesity, Front View. Feel Free to use. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Self-control is a variable of concern as ” In this obesogenic context, self control, the capacity to regulate behavior, attention, and emotion in the service of personal standards and goals, is required to forego immediate gratification and choose instead options that protect against weight gain.”
  2. Weight control may be important for teens, not only for its long term health associations, but also because of its impact on physical attractiveness.
  3.  This study was a prospective longitudinal study that looked at over 100 children in a school setting, and measured their self control and BMI while in grade 5 (mean age 10.5) and correlated it with their BMI when in grade 8.
  4. Self-control was measured using a variety of methods. Students filled 2 self-report measures of self-control: The Impulsivity subscale of the Eysenck I6 Junior Questionnaire and The Brief Self-Control Scale. Parents as well as teachers also filled the informant version of Brief self-control scale. Apart from this Kirby Delay-Discounting Rate Monetary Choice Questionnaire was used to present hypothetical choices between small reward now and large reward later, meant to judge the delay of gratification. Also an actual behavioral delay of gratification task was used to ascertain self-control. A composite measure was created from these measures.
  5. Potential confounds like demographics (SES), Happiness (measured by SSLS and PANAS-C) and Intelligence (Otis- Lennon School Ability Test—Seventh Edition Level F) were measured and controlled for in the analysis.
  6. The authors replicated their earlier result that low self-control in childhood, indeed leads to weight gain in transition to adolescence. High self-control, on the other hand, protects children form weight gain.

Overall, this is a nice addition and replication of the earlier paper that we have already summarized. If you want to check out the paper its available online here.

Research Summaries: Self-Control Protects Against Overweight Status in the Transition from Childhood to Adolescence

Grit and self-control are the two character strengths on which Angela Duckworth focuses a lot, and this research summary is about a paper co-authored by Angela that shows how a lack of self-control can lead to obesity and weight gain in adolescence; while being more self-controlled helps one stay leaner.

Body mass index. Graphics is made language ind...

Body mass index. Graphics is made language independent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. The authors define self-control as ” the ability to override impulses in order to achieve goals and maintain standards”.  It is also the ability to resist short term temptations and distractions in service of long term benefits.
  2. Self-Control has many positive associations like increased life expectancy, higher report card grades and achievement test scores and career success. However not many have looked at whether and how self-control may be related to the right amount of body weight.
  3. Weight gain from childhood to adolescence is natural, but excessive weight gain that leads to high BMI (body mass Index) is problematic and associated with negative outcomes like coronary diseases, diabetes etc. some risk/ protective factors like Socio economic status (SES) and pubertal development are well established; however not much work has been done linking personality variables like self-control with excessive weight gain.
  4. As children enter adolescence they start exercising more and more autonomy regarding their lifestyle choices like when to eat , sleep etc. Self-control, or the ability to delay short term gratification in view of long term well-being, thus becomes a salient feature for them with regards to how they manage their weight.
  5. This study was a prospective longitudinal study that looked at nearly 850 children in a birth cohort, and measured their self control at age 9 and correlated it with their BMI at age 15.
  6. Self-control at age 9 was operationalised using informant ratings by mother, father and teacher on the items related to self-control on the  Social Skills Rating System (SSRS)questionnaire.  Overweight status was established by classifying those with BMI z-scores falling above 85th percentile as overweight.
  7. Other potential confounds like intelligence, pubertal status etc were also measured and used in the analysis.
  8. The results showed that the overweight children (at age 15) were half a standard deviation lower on self-control (at age 9) that the normal weight children. Similarly, those children who showed higher self control than average at age 9, were less likely to become overweight at age 15.
  9. The study is important because it points to one mutable, and under one’s control, factor that leads to excessive weight gain – Self control. Thus, this factor , self-control, can and should be taught during the childhood to adolescence transition.  It will not only help the obesity epidemic but will lead to other gains too!

If you want to dig deeper, here is the original article.

Research Summaries: Self-Discipline Gives Girls the Edge: Gender in Self-Discipline, Grades, and Achievement Test Scores

Today’s post summarizes a paper by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman, that parses the same set of data, as obtained in their earlier paper (see research summary of that paper here), to come up with new insights about gender differences in self-control and scholastic achievement.

Dangal

Dangal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

  1. Girls, typically outperform boys when it comes to getting good grades overall and within each subject. this is true of US; however from what I have seen of Indian board results, the same is true of almost every board exam in India, be it CBSE, ICSE or State Boards.
  2. The girls however do not outperform boys on achievement tests like SAT or on ability test like IQ tests.
  3. If one were to assume that achievement and ability test are a better measure and can be used for predicting the grades, then girls grades as predicted by IQ etc fall shorter of what they actually achieve; and boys typically achieve lower actual grades that those predicted on the basis of their IQ. This phenomena is called underprediction and overprediction respectively.
  4. Traditional accounts of explaining this gender gap focus on how boys are better at achievement tests and are at an advantage. For example, as boys are expected to do better on such tests, girls face ‘stereotype threat’ which leads to poor performance by girls.
  5. Angela set out to find whether the undeprediction of grades for girls, and the advantage that girls have over boys when it comes to grades, might be due to gender differences in self-control. Specifically she surmised that girls are more self-controlled than boys and this factor could partially explain the female advantage when it comes to grades.
  6. I had lamented in my earlier research summary, that Anglea hadn’t defined self-control; she does in this paper:
  7. We use the terms self-discipline and self-control interchangeably, defining both as the ability to suppress prepotent responses in the service of a higher goal and further specifying that such a choice is not automatic but rather requires conscious effort. Examples of self-discipline include deliberately modulating one’s anger rather than having a temper tantrum, reading test instructions before proceeding to the questions, paying attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming, saving money so that it can accumulate interest in the bank, choosing homework over TV, and persisting on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration.

  8. Parsing the data from previous study they found that indeed VIII class girls outperformed boys when it came to grades achieved; that their grades were underpredicted if one looked at achievement test results; girls were more self-controlled than boys and that gender differences in self-control partially mediated the relationship between gender and grades. In study 2, they had administered an IQ test also, and that too underpredicted girls’ grades.
  9. To me, if we put the two papers together, one showing that self-control trumps IQ, and the second showing that girls have an advantage in grades due to self-control over boys, and we club this with the fact that in some IQ tests etc boys show a greater variance than girls on IQ, I think a safe bet for boys, is not to rely too much on IQ, but develop self-control too.  Both intelligence and self-control are immensely malleable, and depending on the type of test / grade that my be more meaningful criteria of academic achievement for you, you should develop either or both- but most important do not compromise on your love of learning, curiosity and creativity while being lured by these indices of scholastic achievement- these are way too important in their own way and without being a means to an end.

 

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