Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021
Conscientiousness and Grit: Pitching up and Pitching in
Work banishes those three great evils: boredom, vice and poverty. (Voltaire, Candide)
When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery. (Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths)
Conscientiousness is a personality variable. After intelligence, the best predictor of school, university and work success is conscientiousness. It accounts for why girls do better at school than boys. It predicts when and why people pitch up and pitch in. Conscientious people have very low incidences of absence and disciplinary problems.
So two relevant questions: Precisely what is it/what are the components or facets? And equally importantly, how do you measure it?
The taxonomists of conscientiousness argue that there are eight distinguishable but related parts:
1 Industriousness: This is about working hard, always putting in an effort and frequently exceeding expectations. Industrious people push themselves (and others) very hard to succeed.
2 Perfectionism: This is aiming for high quality, no mistakes, no reject work. It is about being detail-orientated and striving always to be the best.
3 Tidiness: This is a strong preference for order, regularity and the ’everything-in-its-place’ philosophy. Conscientious people have a strong aversion to disorder and mess. They like things correctly filed and tasks completed.
4 Procrastination Refrainment: The really conscientious are not types easily distracted or those who have difficulty getting started. They don’t put off all unpleasant tasks, starting only the easy ones. They go to work at once: they prioritize and spend their time and effort wisely.
5 Control Preference: This should not be confused with being domineering. It’s about being planful, thoughtful and decisive. It is also about understanding the role of authority. The opposite is rushed, rash, impulsive behaviour.
6 Caution: Because of the above the conscientious person is careful to avoid mistakes, get their facts right and think ahead. They think before they speak; they choose their words carefully.
7 Task Planning: The conscientious person is planful. They carefully devise a plan, a schedule and a considered path. They stick to it and require others to do likewise. They like to work out efficient routines and stick to them.
8 Perseverance: The conscientious deal well with frustrations and setbacks. They don’t give up easily, they don’t avoid responsibility, and they don’t lose interest. They are calm under pressure.
Trait conscientiousness is associated with being efficient, organized, reliable and responsible. People high in conscientiousness have been shown to be achievement-oriented, competent, dependable and productive. It is not surprising therefore that parents, teachers and employers value the trait and attempt to shape and encourage it in their children, students and employees. Students who are more conscientious earned university grades higher than their intelligence scores would predict.
There are consistent findings from correlational studies that show the very small, but significantly positive, association between conscientiousness and educational achievement and occupational prestige. There is also some evidence to suggest sex differences in conscientiousness which has been used to explain why females outperform males in school grades despite the evidence of very small differences in intelligence between the genders (Furnham, 2008).
They also tend to be emotionally stable and agreeable; it’s better to work for a conscientious boss.
But there are other interesting issues that come out of the research. We know that intelligence is related to success at work (promotions, pay etc.). We also know that conscientiousness is related to success at work. But, and here’s the paradox, intelligence and conscientiousness are negatively correlated in many elite universities. The researchers have proposed the compensation hypothesis which suggests that less bright people have to work harder to catch up and stay ahead. Plodders have to be conscientious. So make sure you don’t have someone who has to work so hard because they can’t keep up with their peers.
Roberts, B., Chernyshenko, O., Stark, S., & Goldberg, L. (2005). The Structure of Conscientiousness. Personnel Psychology, 58, 103—39.
Stairs, A., Smith, G., Zapolski, T., Combs, J., & Settles, R. (2012). Clarifying the Construct of Perfectionism. Assessment, 19, 146—66.
Stoeber, J., Otto, K., & Dalbert, C. (2009). Perfectionism and the Big Five. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 363—8.