Nice People Are Smarter People
March 20, 2013

Conscientiousness Linked To Higher College GPA Scores

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

It´s often been said that nice guys finish last. In other words, those interested in helping others or trying to leave the world a better place than when they found it will inevitably end up denigrated by the guys who fight only for themselves. It´s safe to say this is a sentiment not shared by Sam McAbee, a psychology graduate student at Rice University in Houston, TX. According to a new study conducted by McAbee and a professor of psychology at his school, nice guys (and ladies) finish first in some aspects of life, such as grade point average.

McAbee and professor Fred Oswald examined previous studies which looked for a link between the “Big Five” personality traits and grade point average in college students. In all tests, McAbee and Oswald found that conscientious or nice people were more likely to earn better marks in school. It´s a study which McAbee says could play a significant role when it comes to admitting high school seniors into college.

“Research on these personality tests helps us gain a better understanding of how various personality traits may affect academic outcomes and other important life outcomes,” said McAbee in a press statement. “And although some researchers have questioned whether these personality measures might vary in their validity or effectiveness for predicting these outcomes, our analysis shows that all five measures produce similar results in the academic domain.”

The Big Five personality traits include agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience. In each round of tests examined by McAbee and Oswald, there was a strong link between conscientiousness and a higher grade point average. The researchers even used different methods to determine how conscientious a person was, as well as determine any other personality traits.

The results were the same. No matter which test was used to gauge how nice a person was, their grade point averages were simply higher.

McAbee and Oswald studied 51 previous studies which were released between 1992 and 2012. All told, these previous studies covered more than 26,000 total participants and investigated the link between the other Big Five behaviors and overall school performance as it pertained to grade point average. Each of the tests used common methods to determine the Big Five personality traits, including the NEO Personality Inventory, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory, the Big Five Inventory, Goldberg´s Unipolar Big Five Factor Markers and the Big Five International Personality Item Pool.

According to Oswald, knowing that nicer people have better grades could help colleges when deciding which students to admit. After all, colleges cannot admit students based solely on personality traits, but if these traits are associated with higher scores, admissions offices could find it worthwhile to score students on their personalities. The link between being a generally nice person and having a higher grade point average is only the first step. McAbee and Oswald now say further research should be conducted to better understand how a student´s personality can affect their performance in school.

“Grade point average is just one of many factors that can predict student performance and long-term success,” McAbee said. “We hope our findings will encourage research that investigates how different personality traits impact important outcomes.”

The study, “The Criterion-Related Validity of Personality Measures for Predicting GPA: A Meta-Analytic Validity Competition,” appears in the online edition of Psychological Assessment and is available online.