Non-cognitive skills improve academic performance:
the evidence

This page is an introduction to some key empirical research studies which highlight how non-cognitive factors and skills positively impact academic achievement and educational success.

Poropat, 2009: A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance:

Based on the 5-factor model, in which cumulative sample sizes ranged to over 70,000. Most analysed studies came from the tertiary level of education, but there were similar aggregate samples from secondary and tertiary education. Academic performance was found to correlate significantly with Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. Where tested, correlations between Conscientiousness and academic performance were largely independent of intelligence. When secondary academic performance was controlled for, Conscientiousness added as much to the prediction of tertiary academic performance as did intelligence.​

Taylor et al., 2017: Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School‐Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta‐Analysis of Follow‐Up Effects:

3.5 years after the last intervention the academic performance of students exposed to SEL programs was an average 13 percentile points higher than their non-SEL peers, based on the eight studies that measured academic performance. “Although based on only eight studies, these long-term academic outcomes are notable.”​

Stankov & Lee, 2014: Confidence: the best non-cognitive predictor of academic achievement?:

The piece summarizes the empirical findings on noncognitive influences on academic achievement based on the international data from PISA and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The authors noted that over 200 non-cognitive constructs were measured in these international benchmarking tests and examined the strength of their correlations with achievement. They found that one of the non-cognitive measures, confidence proved to be the best predictor of achievement at both individual level and country level.

Hamilton Bailey & Philips, 2015: The influence of motivation and adaptation on students’ subjective well-being, meaning in life and academic performance:

Explored relationships between motivation, university adaptation and indicators of mental health and well-being and academic performance of 184 first-year university students (73% female, mean age = 19.3 years). As expected, intrinsic motivation was associated with greater subjective well-being, meaning in life and academic performance.

St Clair-Thompson & Mcgeown, 2016: Mental Toughness: Correlates with Educational Outcomes.:

The authors indicated the conceptual similarities and the links between mental toughness and other non-cognitive factors such as resilience, buoyancy, perseverance, self-efficacy, confidence, motivation and personality. The chapter presents some of the studies recently conducted among undergraduate students, children and adolescents. Findings suggested that interventions aimed at enhancing mental toughness have potential effects on attendance, attainment and psychological well-being among students. The authors proposed some research possibilities on mental toughness and the link to academic attainment, test anxiety, academic stress and peer relationships.