Study breaks new ground in debate over grit, finding that earlier research undervalued importance of passion
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), new research establishes a clear connection between grit and higher performance
NEW YORK – Stories of grit – from Rudy Ruettiger making the Notre Dame football team to Rocky Balboa battling Apollo Creed – captivate the public imagination, representing a deep appreciation for individuals who overcome tough obstacles through hard work and determination. Through the pioneering work of University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth, educators have moved to incorporate grit into the classroom, focusing on the traits of resilience and perseverance. Duckworth has championed grit – which she defines as the combination of perseverance and passion – as an important predictor, alongside I.Q. or SAT scores, for predicting future success.
Despite the intuitive importance of grit for performance, researchers have been unable to find consistent evidence that grittier individuals are more likely to succeed, leading critics to increasingly declare the concept to be an over-hyped mirage.
But a new study published by Columbia Business School and Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) pushes back – both moving grit beyond the classroom and reviving its predictive power. Grit, itself, has grit as long as one also measures its passion factor.
The research team of Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business, doctoral candidates Jon Jachimowicz and Erica Bailey, and Professor Andreas Wihler of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, find that earlier analyses of grit fell short because they primarily focused on perseverance and undervalued the key ingredient of passion. That is, prior research emphasized the importance of persevering through tough challenges, but, as the researchers note, perseverance without the clear sense of direction that passion provides does not propel people forward. By more explicitly incorporating passion into both the theory of grit and its measurement, the researchers have established a link from grit to future performance.
“We were not surprised to find that dogged dedication to an objective – without a true passion for the goal – is mere drudgery,” said Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky. “But until now, research on grit failed to factor in the propulsive force that animated grit’s perseverance. By properly incorporating passion into the grit equation, we now have evidence that people who are passionate for their goal and persevere towards it will reach higher heights.”
“Heralding public icons who have persevered through tough challenges is only half the story,” said doctoral candidate Jon Michael Jachimowicz, the study’s lead author. “In addition, we also need to understand the factors that can help people experience passion. Companies around the globe need to recognize the key importance of passion and position employees to pursue personally important goals. Whether it’s gritty athletes making the team, or gritty students getting into the college of their dreams, it’s only through the combination of perseverance and passion that grit can capture its true potential.
To link grit directly with performance, the research team revisited previous grit studies and implemented two new field studies to clearly measure both perseverance and passion. The researchers also used one of the field studies to gauge immersion, described as a more intense level of focus – such as a student who loses track of time when studying for a favorite subject.
- Technology company employees: In a survey at a technology company, researchers measured 422 employees on both Angela Duckworth’s Grit-S scale – which rates how likely someone might be to stick it out through tough challenges – as well as on passion attainment – which focuses whether employees are attaining their desired levels of passion for their work. Researchers then matched employees’ survey responses to supervisor-rated performance ratings, finding that the best performing employees had high levels of both passion for the job and perseverance.
- College students: In a second study, researchers recruited 248 college students at a private university and asked them to fill out the same Grit-S scale and passion attainment questions as the technology company employees. Researchers also asked students about immersion, using questions from the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, such as, “When I am working on activities related to my courses, I forget everything else around me.” Researchers then compared the survey results with students’ self-submitted college transcripts and GPAs within their college major. Using a regression analysis, researchers found that when students report high levels of passion for their work, they have a clearer connection between perseverance and better grades.
- Grit meta-analysis: The research team also revisited 127 previous grit studies, assigning independent coders to review the studies to identify participants who would be more passionate about their pursuits. Analyses showed that in cases where participants likely had a greater passion for a performance domain – such as a survey of entrepreneurs fielding questions about starting their own companies – there was a stronger relationship between perseverance and performance.
Through the two studies and the meta-analysis, researchers determined that perseverance only propels employees and students forward when they experience desired levels of passion. The article, Why Grit Requires Perseverance and Passion to Positively Predict Performance, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is available online at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/09/12/1803561115
To learn more about the cutting-edge research taking place at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researchers
Adam Galinsky is currently the chair of the Management Division and the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. Read more.