Russ Roberts

Angela Duckworth on Grit

EconTalk Episode with Angela Duckworth
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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Don't Fool Yourself... The Right Practice...

Grit.jpg How important is grit relative to talent? Can grit be taught? Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance talks with with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of success in work, play and life. How much does grit matter? Is grit malleable or something we're born with? Duckworth discusses her research on these questions and how to think about what it means for a child and an adult to thrive.

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0:33Intro. [Recording date: July 14, 2016.] Russ: So, listeners may remember your name--I think it was mentioned in the episode we did with Paul Tough, a long time ago, on how children succeed. And was, and I assume is still a big fan of your work. That's how I first heard of you. And now your book has come out recently so I thought it would be great to sit down and talk. Let's begin with--I think something of a challenging question: the word "grit" is a word we know from everyday English language. It has certain meanings, I think, to all of us. What does it mean to you, when you call your book Grit? Guest: I define grit as a combination of passion and perseverance for challenging and meaningful, long term goals. So, not just being resilient, which is I think how a lot of people define grit; but also caring about something. Loving something. Wanting to be resilient about something specifically meaningful to you. Russ: And when you study it, which is what you've done a great deal of, when you try to formalize that idea, how do you do that and what are you looking to find relationships between? How do you, first, how do you measure grit? And then what are you often trying to establish a relationship between grit and something else--what are some of the things that you've looked at? Guest: So, measuring what you are interested in of course holds the first challenge to the social scientist; and when I started studying grit it was in my first years of graduate school and I had been interviewing high achievers and trying to figure out what their personalities were like, and eventually coming to understand that this combination seemed, not the only thing that was signature to these high achievers, but it was a common denominator. So, for example, artists want to be creative; and they will say things like, 'I like to make stuff.' But you don't always find that a successful hedge fund manager will say, 'I like to create stuff. I like to express myself.' So what was interesting to me was, what does a great hedge fund manager have in common with a great artist and a great chess player, a swimmer, etc., etc.? This combination of passion and perseverance, when it came out in the interviews, I then wanted to say, 'How do I study this more systematically?' I created a questionnaire called 'The Grit Scale,' and almost verbatim, it actually has friezes[?] that would come up in interviews of the people that I had been studying really qualitatively as people who were really great in their field. And particularly when you ask a great performer to describe the person that he or she admires most, then I got much richer descriptions. And so, items on the Grit Scale include things like 'I don't give up,' 'Setbacks don't disappoint me,' or 'I finish whatever I begin'--those kinds of phrases that you simply respond to for taking the grit scale; and you say, 'Yeah, that's a lot like me,' maybe, 'It's not much like me'--that's how I've been measuring grit in my research. Russ: So, one of the things that came to my mind when I looked at that was that what you are explicitly measuring there is how gritty people see themselves. Not necessarily how gritty they actually are. So, I think of myself as a pretty gritty person; and I filled out the Grit Scale casually--I didn't [?] to a number. Sorry. So I can't report. But I think of myself as gritty; but maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm fooling myself. What do you do to deal with that issue? Or is it enough to say that how we perceive ourselves is what is important for our achievement? Guest: Well, it's absolutely true of any questionnaire that when somebody fills it out about themselves all you can get is what they think they are like. And there's got to be some error there, because let's assume that people or that most people don't perfectly know themselves. So it's absolutely a limitation of the scale. And the question is: Does that limitation, does that error make it unusable? And I think--what we found, because grit does predict longitudinal outcomes, like, 'Will you finish the first summer of training at West Point? How far will you get in the National Spelling Bee? And how much practice will you do in order to become a better speller?' Because the Grit Scale does with some reliability predict these objective outcomes, I think it's likely more than just a kind of self-perception. It's got to be getting to something real there. Because it's implausible to me that somebody's untethered conceptions of their own grandeur would then predict these objective outcomes, if it was all that kind of noise. That said, I'm sure there's got to be some, you know, people who vastly overrate their grit; or vastly underrate it.
5:58Russ: So, one of the fun things about this book, is first your research looks at a really wide range of examples, like the ones you just mentioned--West Point, survival, Spelling Bee champions. A lot of very interesting stories about successful people out in the world, ranging from NFL (National Football League) football coaches to business people and other standard forms of endeavor--swimmers, world class swimmers. So you really get around. It's pretty amazing. But it seems to me--and you are very persistent--we know that you are a gritty person because you persist in reaching some of these people who I'm sure are very busy. But it seems to me that you are very--you underplay the role of talent. And, reading the book and your work, I wonder about that. And you make some dramatic claims about grit versus talent in the book. And I want to try to get a little more quantitative measure if you can provide it for the role of talent. At some points in the book you almost suggest that talent's effects are small compared to perseverance and passion. Do I interpret that correctly? Guest: Well, you know, I first want to say what I mean by talent, because, as somebody who studies what I study, I'm very aware that people use the word 'talent' in different ways. Sometimes people use the word 'talent' synonymously with skill. That's very often how it's used in the business world. You know, when somebody says, 'You know, we really need to bring in high talent; that's the most important thing that this company can do,' oftentimes what that business person means is: We need to find the best people at their job, and hire them. Russ: [?] everything. Guest: It's sort of everything. But it's sort of roughly like all skills that might matter. But it's what they can do. But then when you think about kids in Second Grade who take IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests so that they can be admitted to the Gifted and Talented Program, well, that's not necessarily looking for Second Graders who have mastered a skill at a certain level proficiently. That word, their talent, means their potential. Russ: Raw. Guest: And that's why I think it goes along with gifted--like, what they could do. Right? Russ: Yep. Guest: So I think we're sloppy actually in how we use the word. We use it sometimes to mean one thing, some times to mean another. I specifically mean talent--when I use the word, I mean it as the rate at which you get better with effort. The rate at which you get better at soccer is your soccer talent. The rate at which you get better at math is your math talent. You know, given that you are putting forth a certain amount of effort. And I absolutely believe--and not everyone does, but I think most people do--that there are differences in talent among us: that we are not all equally talented. So, just to be clear, yeah; and it's not that you said this, but just to be clear: I don't think that we, you know, our labor, I am not laboring under the illusion that we're all equally blessed with aptitudes in all domains. The reason why I think that talent, you know, has kind of overshadowed other things that matter to long term achievement is the same reason that the sociologist Dan Chambliss, somebody who I interviewed and talked to for the book but otherwise also just as a fellow scholar who is interested in high achievers: I have the same concerns about talent that he does. I think so often, when we see high achievement, we leap to the conclusion that that individual got there because of talent. And so there's almost this, 'Well, if you can't explain it, it must be talent" knee jerk reflex. And I think that actually is probably why there is this sloppiness in the language: Sometimes we mean it to be an acquired skill, what they've achieved with both talent and effort; sometimes I'm just going to use it synonymously with aptitude and potential and giftedness. And I think that slippage is because we very often assume that aptitude leads to achievement almost automatically, or without a whole lot of other inputs. So, I would say, in my research studies I am not necessarily interested in running horse races between a measure of talent like an IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test or the Grit Scale. I've done studies where I measure both IQ and grit, to see, for example, whether I can predict who is going to finish West Point training. But it's not necessarily so I can look at the regression coefficients so I can look and say, 'Well, this one's this.' I think, more meaningfully, it's: What value is there in a trait like grit over and above IQ, when you hold IQ constant? And it turns out in the data that it almost doesn't matter whether these things are in the same simultaneous model, because grit and IQ tend to be not correlated, or at least not positively correlated; or not reliably positively correlated. So, I'm interested in the fact that this is something different from talent; and it matters enormously. And for some outcomes--certainly not all successful outcomes--but for some outcomes, something like finishing something that's hard, like West Point training, it seems that it is much more important. So, I'm interested in how it's a different thing, and what things it might be more relevant to than others, but not just so that I can just sit around and compare regression coefficients. Russ: Yeah. I don't think there's any doubt that talent is a multi-faceted word. And I also don't doubt the fact that, even before your research or reading it, that effort or perseverance are incredibly important. And I do think that young people especially overrate raw talent--whatever you want to call it--aptitude, potential--and forget the role that effort and grit and perseverance play. I think the challenge is--there are a lot of interesting challenges we'll talk about. One I worry about is selection bias, which you talk about a little bit in the book. But, talk about it here. Basically, it's true that a lot of people succeed through hard work. But there are a lot of people who put hard work in who fail. They tend not to make it into your narrative. So, how do you know whether the role of effort is overrated because you are mainly looking at successes? Guest: Well, first I want to completely agree with you: call it what you will--sometimes it's called sampling on the dependent variable, right? If you look at high achievers and you say, 'Here's this one thing that they have in common?' you haven't accounted for the fact that you could have looked at the other tail of the distribution and found that they also have the same thing in common, right? And that is certainly true of interviews. And I think that the interviews that I did for the book were, partly, because, as a psychologist, there is something that you can get out of talking to someone and understanding [?] one life in its particulars that you can't get out of your sample of 12,000 people who took a questionnaire with whom you [?] correlate other questionnaires and outcomes. So, the major limitation of interviews is, I think, that: you don't really know what you don't know. And it's not a systematic sample. That said, there are other kinds of research that I've done on grit and others have done on grit and related constructs where you do have all of the people who start off at West Point and they do take the questionnaire, all of them. Now, that doesn't mean to say that there isn't some selection into who even starts at West Point. But of those who started, everybody takes the questionnaire, and now you look at what happens. So I think--it's important to acknowledge that limitation, but I think that's why you always need different techniques to bear on the same problem, because everything is going to be flawed in some way. That's a very important flaw.
14:08Russ: So, let's talk about the 10,000 hour idea. Which is sort of something related to what you are talking about; we've talked about it before on the program. It started off as this idea that if you spend 10,000 hours--there's two ways to say it: If you spend 10,000 hours on something, you're going to become good at it; and: There's no way to get good at anything unless you spend 10,000 hours. Or at least to be great at something. And there's been quite a bit of pushback against both those claims. Ten thousand hours doesn't always lead to greatness; and not every great athlete, musician, etc. has put in the 10,000. Occasionally there are these exceptions; maybe often. So, what do you feel about that? Obviously perseverance by itself is not sufficient. I think you would agree with that. And is that because of aptitude? Is it because some people persevere imperfectly--that is, they don't practice well? What are your thoughts on that? Guest: Well, the 10,000 hour--I guess I'll call a meme because it's gone viral, right? It dates to Malcolm Gladwell, the journalist who very eloquently wrote about it, I think it's still a best seller, actually, outlier, it's been on the New York Times Best Seller list for something like for-- Russ: ever. Guest: Yes, exactly. Something like forever. Russ: For Ever. Guest: For Ever. Forever. More than 10,000 hours, that's true. So I think that there are a lot of misconceptions around the 10000-hour rule. I think these are things that Malcolm Gladwell is now very aware of. Certainly others--Anders Ericsson, who is the scientist who did the work on the 10,000 hours of practice--he's very aware of them and has written about this misunderstanding and how unhappy he is about it. But the one misunderstanding is that there is something magic about 10,000. That's obviously a round number, average--it's actually one study of German musicians in their 20s and how many hours they had done to distinguish themselves from less-accomplished musicians in the same study. So, there's nothing magic about 10,000. I think the quality of the practice is a second misconception. It's not 10,000 hours of anything. It's not even 10,000 hours of just time on task. It's 10,000 hours of a certain kind of practice that Anders Ericsson has found to be unique to the high achievers, or certainly characteristic of high achievers. They don't just go in and practice in a kind of unsophisticated way. They are working on very specific focal weaknesses. Often those activities are planned with a coach or some kind of expert who tells them exactly how they should get better. Next, they practice with full attention, full engagement. They are often found to be practicing alone, even when it's a team sport like basketball--which I think is fascinating. Players like Kevin Durant or Bill Bradley, back in the day, practiced many, many hours alone, I think in order actually to achieve that kind of concentration. Then, timely feedback: ideally immediate feedback on what they did right, what they did wrong. Then they make these micro-adjustments to what they were doing. And this not only goes for physical activities like basketball but also mental activities--chess, and writing and so forth, where you just need to make this little adjustment and you sort of go at the whole thing again. It's not the kind of practice that most of us put in. And when I first met Anders--and I think I put this in the book--I, you know, asked about why I wasn't a better runner after maybe thousands of hours, maybe not 10,000 but certainly thousands of hours of jogging had made me seemingly no faster-- Russ: yeah-- Guest: than I had ever been. And it's because I wasn't because I wasn't doing this high-quality practice. So, there are misconceptions around the 10,000 hours. But you have also raised some other objections which I think are legitimate. It can't be--even if we made these adjustments; okay, it's an average, it's also about the quality of your practice--it can't be that that's the only thing that matters, your own personal effort. I personally think that talent matters. So, that's one factor. Somebody could work for 10,000 or more hours and not have the aptitude, not be changing in their skill as fast as other people. And so they are just not going to get as far. And a lot of our decisions, when we are young, are about how talented we think we are. So, though I think we might overestimate the role of talent, I certainly don't want people to negate its relevance altogether. You should go out and do things that come relatively easily to you. It would be foolish to do anything else. And that's luck. I've heard you on this very show talk about luck on more than one occasion. And it's [?]-- Russ: Luck counts. Guest: Luck counts, right? I mean, I don't know how you study it as a social scientist because it's by definition stochastic. But luck matters. And then maybe something which some people would call 'luck' but you could consider it, I think categorically in its own, you know, sort of separate column, which is opportunity. I mean, we do not live in an equal society. Opportunities are not meted out fairly. We know that poor children get teachers who are less able than rich children; and that's going to make an enormous difference; and that's separate, I think, from your grit or your talent. So I think there are lots of things that matter, other than 10,000 hours of gritty practice. Russ: Yeah. It's complicated. As I like to say. Guest: Yeah.
19:46Russ: You have a powerful statement way into the book. You say--it's a powerful statement, to me, followed by a surprising statement. You write the following; you talk about your goals at work; you say, your goal at work is to "use psychological science to help kids thrive." And then you write:
But I have a separate goal hierarchy that involves being the best mother I can be to my two daughters.
I'm curious why those two are separate, and what 'thrive' means to you. Guest: Yeah. I want to say something about what motivated me to even, you know, utter bumper-sticker phrases like using psychological science to help kids thrive. Russ: I kind of liked it. Guest: You liked that? Russ: [?] for some level. Yeah. Some bumper stickers get to me even when I know they are bumper stickers. Guest: Yeah. Well, the reason why they are on bumpers, right? Russ: Yeah, it's true. Guest: But the ones that wouldn't have gotten to you maybe wouldn't have made it onto the bumper. But, I think that, in the words of Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, who I've learned a lot from about grit and is in the book, it's incredibly useful to have some kind of, what he calls a life philosophy. What David Brooks would call a 'telos.' Some, some, something that you are working on. And when I talk about passion and perseverance for long-term goals, I mean, really that's what I have in mind: something that organizes and gives meaning to what you are doing. Now, I have one, professionally, and that is to help kids through my psychological research. And if I picked off all the things that I do in a day--boring meetings, you know, difficult conversations, revise and submit manuscripts--really, most of those things--and I hope more and more--I can say in some form or another serve that ultimate telos. Now, I have a separate goal hierarchy, a separate telos: when I walk in the door after work I turn that key; and now it's not really helping children do psychological science thrive. It's my own family, my own kids. Now, of course, there's some overlap there. I mean, they are kids; and yes, I use psychology on them in the sense that every parent uses some--we're all doing some kind of psychology on our kids, whether we do it well or whether we admit to admit to it or not. But, if I were a botanist--you know, if I worked on plants--I would have--the overlap is just coincidental, really, right? Because I have professional goals and they are separate from personal goals. That's me. And I think that's many of the people that I've studied. But, I will tell you that if you ask Pete Carroll, or Marc Vetri--Marc Vetri is a chef that appears in the book, I've gotten to know and again learned a lot from--[?] he would say, and I think he would say, too, that there may be able to subsume under one hierarchy, like one bumper sticker phrase that could effectively describe not only their professional goals but their personal goals, too. Marc Vetri has said, for example, that he doesn't understand this phrase, 'Work-life balance' but that for him it's all of a piece. And for Pete Carroll, you'd think he would say, 'Always compete; be your best.' I mean, these are very abstract bumper stickers that people get to when they are able to express in 5 words everything that they are trying to do. And for Pete Carroll, too: maybe a couple of his kids, maybe all of them at this point, work somehow at the Seahawks organization or [?] work. But, you know, that said: I think that even if you don't end up putting everything into one uber-pure-middle hierarchy with one telos at the top, what I do think is helpful for many people is to have some organizational structure so that they enhance their, that question: What are you about? What are you working toward? Russ: Yeah. I think I misinterpreted the passage, actually. So that's very helpful. Your remarks remind me of a story told--I don't know if it's true or not--but a story told about George Allen, the former coach of the Washington Redskins. He was once allegedly quoted as saying, 'I don't send Christmas cards. They don't help me win football games.' So, he had a very clear--to me, unattractive, but clear hierarchy about his work/life balance. And that's his choice. That's fine.
24:16Russ: But I actually, I misinterpreted it. So let's go back to the--because I thought you meant something different about 'thrive.' I assume, then, when you walk in the door, even though you will of course use your psychological research; but your goal is--correct me if I'm wrong--is that your children thrive. Is that accurate? Is that the way you would see your role as a parent? Guest: Yeah. And I identify[?]--Well, yeah. My role as a parent is to make my kids thrive. And I have a friend, a psychologist, whose permission I didn't get so I won't name this person. But I've asked this collaborator of mine, has he, do you feel like you have one goal hierarchy, or two? And this person was able to articulate really one. I think it was to help people thrive. Or to help people be their best. And, you know, it's unfortunate but when you get to this level of abstraction you do feel like you are in the world of hackneyed cliches. But there's a reason why they are hackneyed, too, anyway. And that phrase, to help people be their best, I think included both the kids and also the research subjects, the population, [?]-- Russ: other people's kids-- Guest: No, I--other people's kids. So, you know, in some ways I could put this all under one thing. But the reason I hesitate to do that is I recognize that, had I become passionate and persevering professionally about something that didn't have to do with kids, right, it's just a kind of an accident in a way that I might be able to put them, for me, anyway, all under one hierarchy. I mean, what if I'd become a dermatologist? Or, you know-- Russ: Your kids would have great skin. Guest: Or a [?] or something. Guest: Yeah. Ultimately. Russ: But the shoemaker's children often go without shoes. So maybe it would go the other way. Guest: Or maybe not. Russ: But the more interesting question though is I'm curious what the word--and I happen to really like the word 'thrive', and I happen to like, again, that hackneyed cliche, either as a professional goal or a personal goal as a parent, to help my children thrive. What does that mean to you? Guest: Mmmm. I mean it for sure to be more than just being outwardly successful. Achievement, I think, is something that most human beings want, at least in some capacity, at some level. There is a basic drive to be competent, to be capable, and to do something that's valuable in the world. And to be recognized, and you know, to quote your favorite thinker, Adam Smith, you know, to be praised and to be praiseworthy. And I think that's partly about your achievement. But even if you just take praise and praiseworthiness, it's not only about your achievement--because we are certainly praised for things other than our achievements. Like being nice. Being ethical. Being honest and upright. Doing the right thing. So, when I say, 'thrive,' I don't mean simply finishing West Point, doing better at the Spelling Bee, getting through the end of your college degree, having a successful professional career, winning the Super Bowl. I don't mean it only to be that. But I think for most people, some level of our--some aspect of our overall flourishing we would say is related to achievement. And if we were dramatically unsuccessful in everything that we tried to do, that would, you know, make it hard for us to say that we were thriving. I think that there are dimensions that I don't personally study as a scientist that are important. I don't study ethics or morality. I think some people interpret that as meaning that I don't care about ethics and morality. You know, I don't study the melting polar icecaps, either. But I'm very concerned about the melting polar icecaps. So, just to be clear: I think thriving means being an ethical and upstanding person, having good personal relationships with the people who you care about and care about you. I think it means having a healthy life of the mind, being a curious and open-minded person--listening to your podcasts, for example. Russ: Huge. Guest: But also, it--huge, that's number one. Maybe that's more important than ethics. Russ: Almost that. Guest: So, yeah, listening to EconTalk. But then, inclusive achievement. And, you know, people can put whatever weight on achievement that they want. But I think most people put more than zero weight. And it is what I study as a psychologist professionally. Russ: So, I think we need a bumper sticker: 'Listen to EconTalk.' I'm sure my listeners can provide one. If you have a nice design, submit it, though; get permission. Although I wouldn't be upset if anybody did it on their own and spread it around. I think it's a lovely thought.
28:51Russ: But, I want to ask you a question--it's not in the book but I think it's an interesting question. So, obviously, when we think about worldly success, whether it's in business or sports or music, whatever it is: Everybody agrees with all the caveats we've already talked about, that practice matters. We could be uncertain about how much practice, what kind of practice. But practice clearly matters. Do you think practice matters for things outside of the things that we usually point to, like playing the violin, swimming, being good at finance, or professional sports--whatever it is? That is, if I want to be a more ethical person, is there a way to practice? Is it--meditation is often called a practice, with the implication that you are going to get better at it. The implication is that when the real thing happens--life, or whenever a test comes along of ethics or mindfulness--that you'll be able to be successful--in that dimension, not the ones that revolve around money, say. Have you thought about that at all? Guest: I have. Russ: Is there grit in ethics? Is there grit in self-control? Guest: I have thought about that. I think it's a fantastic question. And my position on this is: Yes; there are many things that are not, just not dance[?], not solving algebra problems, that you could ask: 'Well, I wonder if practice matters? I wonder if it's a skill, the way these other things are skills?' And my answer is, in many ways these things are. And it's not that there are only skills. So, for example, let's take self-control. Right? There is some skill to self-control. Maybe not, it's not that skill is the only thing that is relevant. If you don't believe that you can--so beliefs matter for self-control. If you don't believe you can grow in self-control or that it's possible to control yourself in a situation, it doesn't matter whether you actually have the latent skill. You won't actually exercise it if you don't believe that you can. Or if you don't have any motivation to exercise self-control in a certain situation, well then, you know, your skill doesn't matter. But skill is part of self-control. There's one very specific example: what if you are trying to get to the gym, and gosh, day after day you wake up and one thing happens after another and all of a sudden it's 7 o'clock at night and there goes another day when you don't go to the gym. Russ: Just hypothetically. Guest: Just hypothetically. Actually, I don't know if this applies to you, but this actually doesn't apply to me, Russ. I don't have a problem with [?] Russ: You're a good gym-goer? Guest: Well, and let's use me as an example: I do have a problem getting up for yoga in the morning. Russ: Okay. There we go. Guest: Yup, there you go. And it's because it's so God-awful early, and I'm tired, because I work really hard. So, that's a self-control problem for me. Now, I _have actually acquired some skill in solving that. I have picked up little things. Like, I have figured out that if I put out my clothes on my bureau the night before, it takes me like 15 seconds--in the morning it would take me longer, because I'm groggy and my motivation isn't up--that ease in which I can just in two steps walk over to the bureau, grab the clothes I know I'm going to wear, put them on--that takes me 25 more seconds. And then walk out the door. That's actually a strategy or a skill that I've picked up, I didn't have at an earlier point. It makes getting to yoga easier. And I think that is something that I have practiced. And I've gotten feedback--not from a coach but just from sort of like, 'Oh, there was the Tuesday that I didn't do that, and guess what? It took me long enough that I ended up not going to yoga,' and [?] got to figure like, 'Oh, what the heck, I'm running late and I'm just going to skip this one.' So I think that there's a lot about character generally; and it was Aristotle who pointed out that this could be cultivated in part because you could practice it. And then of course Aristotle went one step further. Because, what happens to a skill or a strategy that you enact over and over and over again, successfully, and therefore you are rewarded at some level? Well, we know from psychology that what happens in those circumstances is you develop a habit. And that, I think, is what Aristotle wanted us all to ultimately achieve: character strengths like self-control that would become so automatic that they wouldn't acquire, at least, the conscious level of effort that we associate with, you know, doing things like being self-controlled or being gritty in the face of setbacks, etc. Russ: Yeah, I think the challenge is--and you and I think have talked about this a little bit off the air in a different conversation--the question is: What's the right kind of practice? I'll give you an example from my life. So, I want to be less prone to anger. Okay? And there's a--you start to think about the question: What techniques might one use to avoid being provoked to anger? Of course, one solution is to avoid situations that make you angry. But I'm more interested in the case where something that once made me angry doesn't make me angry any more. I want to learn to control that response, that habit I've gotten into. And I think that's extremely difficult. There's a classic, a Jewish story of the rabbi who had an angry coat--that if anything makes him angry, he has to go and put this coat on. And by the time he gets to the closet and puts the coat on, he's already calmed down. That's one way of developing that habit or trying to restrain that character trait. But I think the more interesting case is the case of trying to think about what methods a person might use in advance of the provoking incident that would allow a person to develop that self-control--it could be anger, it could be food. I have a weakness for brownies: when I see 'em, it's just very hard--even when I've made a resolution beforehand: If I see a brownie I'm not going to eat it--when it's there, suddenly everything is different. Have you thought about what ways we might practice, literally, without eating the brownie every time, to help us get there? Guest: So, the strategy of avoiding situations in which you--you know, because you know yourself well enough. Life is very recursive, right? We often think of it like, 'What would you do [?if] ?' But really much of life just happens to us over and over again. It's like Groundhog Day, when you are just presented--and then you eat the brownie again. Russ: It's Groundhog Day and you've got yoga class when you wake up when that alarm goes off. That's your version. Guest: That's right. That's my version of Groundhog Day. Yeah, exactly. So, if we practice the strategy--and one question you would say is, 'If it's true, Angela, that if there's a strategy or a skill in selecting situations where we will be our best selves, you know: Don't go to a bar if you are an alcoholic; don't walk past the bakery if you are trying to stay on your diet. Don't go sit on the end of the Thanksgiving table with your brother-in-law and start talking politics, because the last 17 Thanksgivings that didn't work out well--' Russ: Yeah, food fight-- Guest: 'on the other end.' Exactly. Go sit at the kids' table, right? Go play touch football. That, I do think is a skill. I think it can be practiced. I think somebody can tell us, 'Hey, have you tried this?' We could try it and maybe not do so well; we could try it again; we could get better and better. I think that the practice is really not all that different from practicing shooting at basketball. I mean, you try; you set a goal of doing something; you give it a try--probably not literally, as in the case of basketball. You probably don't do as well as you wanted to; you make some adjustment; you're like, 'You know what--this time--I've tried that coat trick; I heard that rabbi thing. But I'm really having trouble--that coat thing isn't working for me. But let me try taking a walk. Right? That's not working. But this other person said, 'Count backwards from 10.' That's not working. Well, how about counting backwards from 10 by threes? Right? Including negative numbers. So, I think there are lots of ways in which character development is very similar to acquiring other sorts of non-character skills. Again, that doesn't mean that character is synonymous with skill--there are other things that go into character, like your motivation. Eventually, skill becomes a habit. But there's some part of character which is skill-like. Russ: I guess my dream is that I'm sitting at Thanksgiving; I'm with my brother-in-law; we're arguing about the 2016 election; the plate of brownies is being passed around; and I skip the brownies. I smile when he says something I disagree with and I don't let it get to me; and then we go off and do yoga class together. That would be sort of my fantasy of character transformation. So, you know, it's a higher level, right? Guest: [?] It's a vegan turkey [?] Russ: Yeah, exactly. It's a free-range vegan turkey. Guest: Yeah. There's no carbs. So. Well, Aristotle would say that if you do practice something over and over again, it does become a habit. And I think it could become a habit for you to not sit with your brother-in-law. But you wanted a different habit. You wanted a habit where you can approach the temptation; you can be within millimeters of the temptation or microseconds, and yet you are this beatific, virtuous self. And you feel no conflict, maybe, in this idealized version of your life. Russ: Yeah. Guest: Now, that may be possible in certain circumstances, particularly if you use other strategies like cognitive appraisal strategies. And that's jargonese, so I apologize. But psychologists have, for many decades--not forever, but in my lifetime, certainly--understood that the objective situation--your brother-in-law, the brownies, the table--those are filtered through our minds. And we construct them, to some extent. You bring to the Thanksgiving tableau your past experiences, your misgivings about your brother-in-law, the time that you thought he cheated you out of $17; and you will project these onto the situation. And so that psychological reality is not the same thing as the objective reality. And there is some skill, again, I think--you can call it partly, at least, a skill, of appraising or interpreting or understanding that circumstance in ways that are more productive. You go to a therapist, a cognitive therapist--sometimes they identify themselves as cognitive behavioral therapists. But they work on this skill of interpreting your projective[?] circumstances in ways that are more accurate and certainly more adaptive. And they give you homework. And then you come back. And you try again. That's--you're being coached, really. That's one of the reasons I think that skills like emotion regulation are exactly that: they are skill-like. I think that you might at some point achieve the Nirvana-like state of sitting down with somebody who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum, saying all the things that might otherwise get under your skin. But I think it's not the--it's not what I would recommend as a psychologist as the route to go. I think it's actually much more clever and more efficient to do what Thomas Schelling, the economist said, which is, 'Use whatever trickery you can to make things easier.' And I don't think rethinking the situation is the easiest strategy in most cases. Russ: Yeah. That's an interesting question. And maybe we'll come back to that, not at the end of this episode, but in a year or two I'd love to come back to those issues, as I think it's a really interesting question.
41:13Russ: But let's come back to Grit. And I appreciate the detour. You argue that grit is more plastic than we think. How plastic is it? I think one reaction that some people might have to your work is that: Sure, perseverance matters, but it's a character trait; you have it or you don't. And certainly when I look at my children or other people's children, I see on the surface at least a wide range of grittiness and perseverance. Isn't it maybe just something that we have or don't have? Guest: So, maybe you are asking the nature/nurture question? Russ: Probably. Right. Yeah. Guest: You know, well that's certainly one way in which you can have it or not: it's in your DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid). And maybe I'll just address that part first. Which is, for sure, grit is heritable. I used to say, when I would give talks about grit, 'Well, it must be heritable partly, because every personality trait,' or you could call them character strengths, but these are just semantics, right?--like, 'everything is, you know, true about you is influenced by your DNA.' And then, about a year ago, there was a study done of twins in the United Kingdom where they actually had twins take the Grit Scale--and this was the classic twin study, you know, twins raised apart, twins raised together, you are basically back into the math. And you get an estimate of how much we think that genes must explain the variation in grit in the population. And the estimates came back from the study--a little lower than I thought they would be--you know, 20-40%. But nevertheless, you know, affirming the idea that grit is partly a function of your genetic heritage, over which you have zero control. And which you really can't expect to change in your lifetime, meaningfully. Right? There's epigenetics and so forth. But just leaving that aside, your DNA is your DNA. That of course leaves a lot left that's not DNA to explain; so this is true for not just grit but everything. It's not nature or nurture. In almost every case that you can imagine, and certainly all the ones that I can imagine, nature and nurture. And then of course it gets more complicated, in that nature via nurture, or nurture via--there's a lot more to say, of course, about heritability. But I don't think that's all you meant. Because it's also plausible that, you know, maybe your early experiences, sixth year [?] in combination with your genes, you hire a 24-year-old; you don't expect that 24-year-old to be all that different over the course of the time that they work for you because those things were fixed earlier. And that's another way that grit could be unchangeable. Russ: Yep. Guest: And here I have to rely on research that's not just about grit. Because I started studying grit as a graduate student--just around the turn of the Millennium. But that's not that long ago. There's been many more studies done, and longitudinal studies done of other traits. And what do we know about how personality and character change over the lifetime change based on those studies? Well, one thing we know is that in terms of rank order stability--you know, line up a hundred people from highest to lowest in any given trait, now line them up again 7 years later; now line them up again 7 years later--how much does the rank ordering change? Well, it changes more than you would think? I think it was--William James or it could have been another thinker who said, 'Show me the child, I'll show you [?]--less biblical [?].' But I think William James also said, 'Your personality is set like plaster' after a certain reasonably early age. Those intuitions are not supported by data that show that well into your forties and fifties you get a fair amount of movement; I think the plateau of rank/order stability is about an r of .7 in your fifties. That is about what it is--subsequently it might even go down from there. But it's never 1, right? The rank-order stability is never perfect. And for much of our life it's well below .7. So, you know, it depends on where your intuitions were. I don't know if that's shockingly, you know, more stable than you thought or less stable. It depends on where you start. But surely we can say that when you line people up from greatest to lowest in any trait, that rank order will not be perfectly stable over a time. And the second thing that longitudinal research has revealed is that you can look at mean level changes: not how we compare to others, but just how we are. Period. And there is considerable movement on things like conscientiousness--that's a family of personality traits that includes grit and self-control--the two things that we've been talking about. It also includes being a dependable person, being trustworthy, to some extent being a traditional person. But this big family of traits has been studied extensively by many, many psychologists, and there are fairly sizeable changes: when you compare a 22-year-old to a 32-year-old to a 40-year-old to a 50-year-old, reliably, people get substantially more conscientious over their lifetime. I should have the estimates more at my fingertips, but I'm thinking that the order is, you know, 0.5, or .7 or even more, in terms of standard deviation of difference changes in absolute levels of something like conscientiousness over the lifetime. So that to me says, you know, you will be wrong if you say that, 'Well, you really can't expect somebody to change.' In those two ways people do change. Not always on your schedule. Russ: Yeah; the only thing I'd challenge about that is the challenge of self-perception. I think most people--I'm 61--I think most people as they get older think about all the ways they've changed, the lessons they've learned; ideally the habits they've left behind; maybe the good habits they've acquired or worse, the habits they've picked up. And yet when you encounter, as I did recently--someone I hadn't seen in 40 years--and I was struck right away as how much they were like I remembered them. And how similar they seemed. And then I thought: 'He probably felt the same way about me. But he doesn't realize I'm so different now. I've learned so much. I'm so much wiser and more patient,' or whatever it is. And yet he seemed to have many of the personality tics, both positive and negative, that I had remembered from before. In fact, I'd forgotten most of them, but I quickly--I was reminded when I saw him and talked to him for half an hour. And so I wonder if I have really changed. I would fill out a questionnaire differently now than when I was 25 or 30. I wonder if I'm really a different person, though. It's hard to know. Guest: That's a really good question. And when you query the scientific literature and you say, 'Okay, well just show me the studies where this personality data is not simply self-report,' for example, I want [?] reports, or, you know, informable[?] reports-- Russ: Yeah. There you go. Guest: Then it's much smaller, right? I think there have been a handful of studies using these other techniques and [?] looking, and I think the results are roughly consistent. But that is a very, very good point. It could be that our perception changes more than the reality. I don't think it's just that, though. I mean, I think about my own parents--and again, take it for what it's worth; it's not a systematic study-- Russ: An n of 1, n of 2. Guest: --n of 2, n of 1. Really, right; the data is nested within me as an observer. But my parents, I'm not saying that they changed wholly, right? That there's nothing that was the same about my parents when I was a little girl to the way that they were when I grew up. But my dad, in particular, got considerably more even-tempered. He just got a lot nicer and lot more mature. And in fact, 'maturity principle' is the phrase, is the name that personality psychologists have given to this phenomenon of personalities changing. Because mostly, it's in a good direction. And so it's not random change, and it's not change for the worse. In general, people become more conscientious, more in control of their impulses, better at having, you know, some kind of equanimity in their emotions--nicer, more considerate, more dependable. So, I think there's-- Russ: Until a certain point, when the cranky old person reveals themselves. But ideally never. But there is that other, sort of stereotype, that as you get older you get not just wiser and mellower but eventually angrier and bitterer. But, I don't know. Guest: Well, you know, that's a problem of averages, right? Russ: Yeah. Guest: There's a lot of heterogeneity in individual--I'm sure there are people who just become awful Scrooge-like characters. But there are a lot of, maybe more, people who are getting nicer. Russ: I hope so. Guest: So, these things--it's true. And I think when we try to think in binary terms--does personality change or does it not change? Is it nature or nurture?--that's where our minds go, naturally with these questions. But the truth is, it's nature and nurture. And the truth is, there is stability in personality or character over time and there is also change. And that is very hard to think about. Even for me. It's hard for me--nuances not comfortable.
50:44Russ: Well, the spousal report is really interesting, because I think the spouse, we all have certain narratives about ourselves; and we try to change some perhaps, if we're not happy with them. And we also have our narratives about other people. And we cherry-pick the data to make sure those narratives don't change, about the other people. And so when we do observe something that's different, say, if it doesn't fit the narrative our mind probably often ignores it. There's nothing at stake. So, surveying spouses about changes in behavior is very challenging because the spouses themselves have their own habits about people around them. Anyway, it's interesting. Guest: Yeah, exactly. So, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that if we got away from self-report questionnaires--some other thing--that that would be perfect. And, by the way, that goes for famous psychological measures like the Marshmallow test, as well. It's a really, really amazingly reliable predictor of life outcomes--how long a 4-year-old will wait for 2 marshmallows versus eating 1 right away. But that's not a perfect measure by any means. It's got a lot of error in it; it can be influenced by whether the experimenter made good on a promise versus told you that a certain thing was going to happen and then-- Russ: Yup. Recently challenged by research at the U. of Rochester, yeah. Saw that. Guest: Exactly. Russ: I'm a big skeptic about the marshmallow test. I don't disagree that self-control is important. Surely it is important. But whether it's genetic, at 4 years old--I just--there's a lot going on there. More than meets the eye, I think. Guest: Yeah. Well, I won't take up your time talking about that, but I studied that, and so if you ever want to talk about it, I'm happy to. Russ: You could add a couple more caveats. Go ahead. Guest: Well, I actually--I would be interested, like, what are your concerns? Because I recently did a validation study to see whether the Marshmallow test really is actually measuring self-control, or maybe something else, like intelligence, or socio-economic status-- Russ: And? Guest: or just hunger. And what I found is that the preponderance of the data--and this collected not just by private researchers but by the government, right, by the National Institution of Health, samples of about a thousand kids who took the Marshmallow test at age 4 and had a wide battery of other measures--multitest IQ test, parent and caregiver ratings of temperament on various well-validated scales, and then longitudinal data in their late teens: transcripts from their high schools, standardized test scores, BMI (Body Mass Index) using nurse recordings of height and weight. You know, the preponderance of the data suggests to me that it is a test of self-control. The longer kids wait, the more their caregivers and their pre-school teachers, you know, the parents and their [?], will rate them higher in things like effortful control. It predicts all the things that it's supposed to predict, like your grades. And this is true even when you hold constant socio-economic status and IQ. So, to me, it feels like any other measure, imperfect. But it does seem to me to be validly assessing what it was designed to assess. Russ: Okay. I feel better. A little bit. A little bit. Guest: At least tonight[?]? Russ: No, I'm going to--no, I'm going to do this, buy some more marshmallows for my kids. Guest: You should, buy--right. People go--well-- Russ: Go ahead. Guest: What are you thinking about it? What was your-- Russ: Well, my thinking was there was a lot going on there. I don't know how big the sample was. Some of your points answer those concerns.
54:21Russ: I do think it raised the question--I want to come back to Grit now--which is: As a parent--and you give advice in the book about parenting--as a parent--I want to bring us back to the plasticity or malleability of grit: If I want my kids to be grittier, or if I want my kids to have more self-control or more perseverance, whatever aspect of this we are discussing: 1. How might I go about encouraging that? Because there's a big leap from saying it changes versus you can change it. There's a relationship, but it's not the same thing. And, Secondly would be what do we know about this, if anything, in terms of our ability to influence it? Because I think even before your book, I think you are very, you are an incredibly influential person right now in the educational reform space. And certainly parents are always eager to give their kids better lives. So, your book is selling like hotcakes. So, Congrats! But I was going to say, before you came along, I think more parents understood it was a good idea to have kids who had self-control or a good idea to persevere. So, my question is: Have we learned anything about how to get better at it? Guest: I think we've learned some. I think we are still in extraordinarily early days for really understanding beyond that it can be changed, how one might one intentionally change it. Then, that's a really important distinction to make. Malleability does not mean teachability. I encouraged by-- Russ: Well said. Guest: Thank you. Bumper sticker. Russ: Well, it took me a while. I got my--I took thirty seconds; yours took four. Good job. Guest: Thank you. I'm encouraged by some early results. One, I'll just point to the work of Carol Dweck and her colleagues have done on growth mindset, where changing a belief about how malleable nature really is; and she's focused a lot on intelligence but it extends to other things. You know people might have in their mind the theory that not only intelligence but personality traits don't change. And we sort of touched upon that. If you have that belief that people don't change, that will influence what you do and how you interact with the world. And it will make you inclined to fulfill that prophecy, in fact, right? And take failure as an indication as a permanent and fatal diagnosis of what you are going to do. She can change your mindset in relatively brief intervention, some of them lasting as short as a class period. And change kids' minds about whether in fact human nature is so fixed after all. And that has long-lasting effects on their persistence: on difficult academic tasks and their objective performance in school. So, there should be more research than there is; and researchers are doing everything they can to accelerate the process. But just those early findings I think are encouraging. In my own work I find that when you talk to kids about deliberate practice and you reveal to them how experts really get better at what they do--and it's not tricking them into saying like, 'Talent doesn't matter; it's all about effort.' No, no, no. It's simply telling them that when experts practice, they work on something specific they can't do, they get a lot of help from other people like coaches, they get a lot of feedback on what they've done. And even when they try their hardest, which they always do if they're experts, they are going to get all this feedback on what they did wrong. And they are going to feel confused, and frustrated, and sometimes they might even feel stupid. But they recognize that's part of learning so they get up and they do it again. When we share with kids that reality, they try harder. When we give them deliberate practice opportunities, they change their way of understanding frustration: they are more likely to say that frustration is part of learning; it doesn't necessarily mean you are stupid or you can't do something forever. And on objective measures like their Report Card rate, particularly for kids who start out on our studies and on the lower half of achievement, they reliably improve their performance. And again, from objective records of performance--Report Card grades, not on self-report questionnaires. Now, these are early days when we stick around in those schools and we find, you know, that we have data subsequent to the next marking period--so now we're tracking kids longitudinally--the effects fade out over time. So, I'm sobered by that. And I know that there's so much more that we need to do. But, to me, it's proof of concept. To me, it suggests that not only are these malleable things--grit, self-control, character broadly--but there is at least some reason to believe that they are teachable.
59:02Russ: One thing I don't--maybe it's in your book, I don't remember it--but there's something about grit is that it's fun. It's actually glorious to persevere at something and to get better at it. And I try to get my children to savor that when they notice it. And when I notice it. And of course I try to look for it so that I can tell them--that, 'Oh, your guitar playing has really improved. Doesn't that feel good, because remember when you got started and you said "I can't do this?" but you kept at it.' Because I do want my children to persevere. But I'm not sure that that encouragement as a parent has any real effect. I don't know how much of it goes in. My kids differ in how they respond to it, for example, clearly. So, I'm not--I just don't know. Guest: Yeah. And I have a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old at home, and I go through this myself as a parent, as well. Two things. One is, I'm not sure 'fun' is the right word. Russ: Correct. Guest: Fun is almost never a [?] topic of conversation-- Russ: It's satisfying--satisfying is a better--yeah. Guest: Satisfying or gratifying--sometimes people will say exhilarating. But they don't mean fun in the kind of pleasurable--fun is something that almost by definition has a kind of effortlessness about it. For most of us, right? Russ: Yep. Guest: So I think that one thing is to have an expectation that there are different kinds of gratification, and some of them are fun and some of them aren't. And the currency in which we are paid for our effort may not be, like, the way it feels to play a video game, or you know, eat an ice cream sundae. The second thing is: You do have an intuition, and I share it, that just telling somebody in a kind of lecturing way about grit and about the value of hard work and 'Oh, see, there, you used to be terrible at that piano piece and now you're better'--there's lots of ham-fisted ways to do this that don't work. It's almost always better, of course, to show kids. So, I haven't been as good about this recently as I used to be, but I used to videotape or record my kids when they were playing, you know, piano for example or viola, when they were really little, just starting out. And I only did this a few times. I should have been more intentional. And then when they got better--right? Because you kind of gradually get better at something, and you really do forget how--right? And then you just show them. You're like, 'Hey.' There's a teacher who came to a lab meeting--he was a Latin teacher. And he presented on what he did in his Latin class. And he recorded kids at the very beginning of the year taking the final exam; and they had to pronounce all these Latin sentences. And they were terrible, right? Because they didn't know what they were doing. And he videotaped every one of them. And then at the end of the year he did the same thing; and the kids took the final exam; and he just, without much verbiage, showed them pre and post. Russ: That's nice. Yeah. Guest: That was beautiful psychology at work. Russ: Yeah. It's very cool.
1:01:59Russ: You use the word 'science' and scientific research a lot in your book. I know you listen sometimes to EconTalk so you might imagine that I cringed a little bit. As a social scientist I'm a little uneasy with that second word. I've been critical of economics and I think, social science, generally: I think of them more as arts than science. And of course there's been a replication crisis, the way I see it, in social science: certainly in psychology, the work of Brian Nosek and his team. We've had him on a couple of times talking about that. It's happening in economics; it's happening in mainstream science, the physical sciences are questioning whether published, peer-review research can be replicated. What are your thoughts on that and how it might be applied to your work? Guest: Well, I define science as a systematic approach to understanding a question. There has to be, hypotheses articulated in advance, not after the fact, not retrofitting to the observation. And there have to be measures. And I think those two things, to me are really what define a scientific investigation versus something else that you might do to try to understand something. And in my work, I do have a priori hypotheses, and I have imperfect measures, but there are measures. There are ways in which the data can fail to support my a priori hypotheses. And that to me makes it scientific. Now that may be too loose of a definition. And other people might disagree with the way I'm defining the word. But I think that in terms of the replication crisis, what's been clear as the data are coming out is that the most surprising, non-intuitive findings are the ones that are not holding up. They are, by the way, because the human mind loves nothing more than a surprise, the ones that have reached top-tier journals and made it into headlines-- Russ: Front page of the-- Guest: Because it's like, 'Did you know that? Did you know that self-control is like a muscle?' And it's like--well, it turns out that--or it turns out that it runs on sugar, and if you drink lemonade you are going to increase in self control? It turns out: No; that's actually not true. The finding is not replicating well. It's not holding up. But my research is incredibly boring. I mean, you know, some might argue, and I think it's an interesting philosophical argument that it's tautological: that passion and perseverance our long-term goals, predicts high achievement. I think it's possible that that finding might not hold up. It would be surprising to me, that's for sure, in part because it's not a non-intuitive surprising thing. I think for me the real question is: How could you teach it? And can the scientific method reveal the teachability of grit? And how would you do that? Most importantly, what could we do that would be useful. Now, there, if I come up with a series of very surprising findings, like, 'Did you know that you can teach grit in 20 minutes?--it is all about the color blue', then I'll worry more. I worry about a lot of things, but in my own work I don't worry so much about the replication crisis. There are of course other ways to criticize my work. West Point, I'll just give you one example. I have been taking data from West Point since the early 2000s, and I've been working with their scientists. So, they sort of double check on my data. And it's a very reliable finding. I really try hard not to publish anything that I can't replicate at least once. Sometimes because of the nature of the data you just can't do it again, because the study was too expensive. But I think the replication crisis is going through its growing pains. There is a lot of nastiness that this dialogue unnecessarily produces. But in general it's a good thing to worry about replication, and to worry about findings that are too 'Gee whiz' to be true but aren't. But it's not something that I think is as relevant to my work as, like, other things I might worry about. Russ: So, I was going to say you are the Queen of Grit. Maybe Empress might be a better term. You've really, as I mentioned earlier, you've fascinated a lot of people and gotten their attention. And I want to close with what's next for Angela Duckworth. Is grit your life's work? You are now the founder and director of the Character Lab. You want to tell us what that is and how it's going to relate to what you've done before? Guest: Yeah. Russ: If you know. Guest: I know. I'll give you what's on my mind. Three years ago I got together with two educators that I had been working with for years, and we created a nonprofit which we call the Character Lab, the mission of which is to advance the science and practice of character development in children. It's not the Grit Lab, and it's not the Self-Control Lab, either. It's beyond just what I personally study as a scientist. And I created it because I felt that there was potential. I could be wrong, but my hypothesis is that if you bring the scientific method to bear on questions of character development--character very broadly construed--to include gratitude, honesty, kindness, imagination, creativity--all the things that Aristotle I think meant about character: that which allows us to thrive individually and to help society thrive as well. That, if you bring the scientific method to character development, we will make advances far beyond those which have been made to date. And more than that, if educators who are with kids all day long and know a heck of a lot more about their psychology than some of us psychologists do--if we could do that together, great things would happen. And I made a decision--quite soberly, because it took me a long time to come to this--in the last year to not only be a founder of this thing, and a board member, but to really up-end my life and to become the scientific director; to move the entire operation, in fact, to the campus of the U. of Pennsylvania. I have all of my chips on this one space. I work on it 80 hours a week-- Russ: Oh, grit. Guest: Yeah. I'm very gritty; so I've now directed this. And I could be entirely wrong. It could just be a flop. But that's my aim. I'm hoping to make more research possible; but not just on the things that I've studied as a scientist, but the things that many other scientists who are interested in other aspects of character study. So, that's what I'm doing.


COMMENTS (18 to date)
Szymon Moldenhawer writes:

Little disappointed.( I have listened to econtalk religiously every Monday since 2013 I would rate this episode lowest ;( )

I was expecting some exposition about grit but conversation kept drifting and meandering into philosophies of life of which the guest seemed to be quite unschooled.(I would advise her to read at least little St Thomas Aquinas and Hillel - no need to reinvent the wheel ).

I still do not know what exactly the "grit" is and if it is a virtue how to cultivate it?

Cowboy Prof writes:

I thought this was a pretty good episode that complemented some of the other conversations on luck, ego, and work habits.

One thing confused me at the end, though, and it isn't cleared up by reading the transcript above, is what the research is saying about whether "grit" is inherited (nature) as compared to being taught (nurture). Is it "20-40%" nature (that's a wide standard error!)? And what does that actually mean?

Also, if nurture plays a role, is there any research on what best promotes "grit"? I do understand sitting away from your brother-in-law during Thanksgiving or putting out your gym clothes the night before, but is there anything about how it can be inculcated in youth? Inquiring parents want to know.

sudos writes:
Also, if nurture plays a role, is there any research on what best promotes "grit"?

Having read the book right before this interview, I can say she does give more advice on how to specifically promote and develop grit in young children. From what I remember, it was something to the effect of "1. Be strict and have structure at home, but allow kids to develop and choose their own interests. 2. Force kids to do an extracurricular for two years in a row, but let them choose what to do." There were a handful of other pieces of advice, but those are the two I remember best.

Her ideas didn't really seem revolutionary to me...but I guess that was one of her points in the interview--the research just backs up some of our long-standing intuitions about perseverance/grit.

Matthew Moran writes:
meditation is often called a practice, with the implication that you are going to get better at it.

This may be too much of a nitpick, but I don't think people "practice" meditation in this sense of the word. People "practice meditation" in the same sense that doctors "practice medicine". In this usage, practice just means to do something on a regular basis. I am not a linguist, so I may be wrong, but I believe that "to do something on a regular basis" is the original meaning of "to practice". The "to improve through repetition" meaning is a newer usage.

Mark Vaughan writes:

In listening to this excellent podcast I was struck by the supposed dichotomy between "grit,' perseverance, focus or whatever you may call it and "talent." I contend this dichotomy doesn't exist.

In my experience in professional sports, "grit" is actually a "talent' inasmuch as it appears intrinsic to a greater or lesser degree in certain individuals. This "talent" may be more predictive of final outcome than just mastery of the base skill.

Trent writes:

I continue to be amazed just how often each guest somehow works in a comment about their concern about global warming - no matter the guest, his/her background, the topic, etc. And sure enough, Ms. Duckworth references her concern around the 27-28 minute mark.

It's reaching the point where you could turn it into a drinking game (a la "Hi Bob" from the 1970s Bob Newhart show, or "Perimeter" from the more-recent "24").

Enrico writes:

Thank you Russ and Angela I found the discussion very interesting. I enjoy it when the discussion is not strictly based in economics and includes the interpretive side of the social sciences.

One point that struck me was the suggestion that grit had a social side in as much as the successful people Angela talked about actively solicited feedback from peers and experts. Somehow this does not chime with my own perception of grit as a solitary quality based on internal high standards and self belief. I am not sure if this is a contradiction or misunderstanding on my behalf. Of course I see the benefit of feedback but maybe I have a romantic idea of grit being solitary perseverance even in the face of negative feedback.

Rich Berger writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

brian writes:

I was a little disappointed by this episode. The guest did not seems to fully address your points, especially about the method of determining who has grit (questionnaires).

I found the twin study that she cites for the genetic component.

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycarticles/2016-06824-001.pdf&uid=2016-06824-001&db=PA

It is also based on a questionnaire for the participants.

Check table 1. The variance across the averages of the Grit Perseverance score between the groups is only 0.10 on a 5.00 point scale . I wish i knew enough statistics to know how that got translated into a 37% heredity contribution for Grit.

Kevin Pinner writes:

This was an interesting topic. I found it somewhat ironic that we need a Ivy League PhD to found a non-profit to study how we can best develop character in children. There is an interesting classic book that gives guidance on how to raise children with character. Here is an excerpt: "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Callum writes:

I can imagine one might connect this idea of grit to some area of economics, but I didn't get a sense of that connection in this episode. I do like the way EconTalk is not afraid to venture into areas that are adjacent to economics, and that's one of the reasons I love this podcast, but when the topic is not obviously related to economics, I need those connections better elucidated.

Sam writes:

I have been a long time listener of Econtalk and I found this episode to be very disappointing. Ross did a poor job as the interviewer by not challenging the guest. As a result we got an hour of empty platitudes that sound nice.

Was the issue of selection bias ever addressed properly? I think stalkers score very high on the grit scale too.

And that brings me to my next point, having grit sounds awfully close to being pathologically obsessive with something (the object of passion). Imagine being the best at X and getting there by being the grittiest person one can be. Who aspires to that? In vast majority of cases being best at X means that X has consumed their life. I like my life to have more than one dimension.

Finally I would advocate an almost opposite trait to grit. Try lots of things, if you find them hard or challenging give up and move on. That you are much more likely to arrive at something that you are much more talented than the average person.

jw writes:

Drive and delayed gratification, if not taken to extremes, are generally good things but are hard to teach.

Anything else?

I am surprised, given the discussion on marshmallows and the Econtalk on the poor track record of the reproducibility of psychological studies, that questions about the reproduction of the results of her studies were not directly asked.

[Comment modified by commenter--Econlib Ed.]

Robert Swan writes:

This talk did fairly string together the bumper stickers.

I had a quick laugh when Prof. Duckworth said that her father had matured a lot since the time she was a little girl. I noticed a similar effect myself, except my parents became a lot smaller; come to think of it, so did the furniture. Just maybe it was she, not her dad, who did most of the maturing.

One of her other statements sent me down a more interesting tangent:

Luck counts, right? I mean, I don't know how you study it as a social scientist because it's by definition stochastic
My immediate thought was "easy peasy": assuming the analysis is using some sort of statistical model, luck is right there in the error term. If the "random" variation is greater than that due to the model's factors, luck can be considered the major factor.

But luck is actually more influential than that. If there is no ability to change it, even a known factor (country of birth, wealth of parents at birth, etc.) can be counted as luck. So there you go; partition the model into controllable vs. luck factors, lump error with luck and have at it.

If Prof. Duckworth takes up the challenge, I imagine that the journals wouldn't be keen to publish. The likely conclusions of most psychology studies, i.e.:

  • "What's the surest path to [desirable thing X]? Luck",
  • "What's the most likely path to [undesirable thing Y]? Bad luck".
Aren't too inspiring. Summary bumper sticker:

You can overcome bad luck with grit -- with luck
Ken Simpson writes:

Yes, grit can be taught.

Ask anyone who has been through military basic training, or a high school football program.

Russ Roberts writes:

jw,

I asked about replication and her own work a little past the 1:01:59 mark:

It's happening in economics; it's happening in mainstream science, the physical sciences are questioning whether published, peer-review research can be replicated. What are your thoughts on that and how it might be applied to your work?
I guess it could have been more direct.
jw writes:

Russ Roberts,

Understood and agreed. I think that I should have framed the comment a little better, "has anyone else replicated her results", which she did not directly answer. She did say that she understood the replication crisis but also showed a surprising amount of confidence that her unreplicated study was immune.

[Comment modified by commenter--Econlib Ed.]

Tom Burnett writes:

My eight siblings and I got grit from our mother. She demonstrated perseverance, pluck, hard work, and a can-do attitude. I thank heaven for her. It seems nurture by parents like mine are the best place to get grit, a project somewhat impervious to public policy.

I was glad to hear five references to Aristotle: this subject owes a great deal to him.

Do social benefits erode grit?

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