Nerd Research Minute ~ August 6: Cognitive vs. Non-Cognitive Skills

This is a time when just about everything, from what we eat, to synthetic fibers for clothing, to prosthetic body parts can be grown or created in a laboratory.

In the learning laboratory that is the public or private school classroom is it also possible to grow a millionaire?

In his post, “Why Smart People are Not Necessarily Rich,” Dan Lattier discusses the distinctive difference between “Cognitive Skills” and “Non-Cognitive Skills” and their role in occupational success.

Lattier’s post features the research of a team led by James Heckman. Dr. Heckman describes the distinctive nature of personality in non-cognitive skills:

“Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls ‘non-cognitive skills,’ such as perseverance, good study habits and the ability to collaborate—in other words, conscientiousness. To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores. Personality counts.” ~ Dr. James Heckman

Many of you are probably unsurprised by these findings. In today’s education system, those with a relatively modest intelligence have the ability to achieve straight-As simply through persistence. And though being “smart” certainly helps on standardized tests, students can close the gap between a low score and a high score through careful preparation and employing proven test-taking strategies.

The drive to get good grades and test scores translates well to the people-pleasing environment of the modern workplace, and to making money in that environment.

But then there’s the question of the desire behind that drive, which neither Heckman nor the Bloomberg article mentions. Discussing this will students, listening and affirming their responses, and encouraging inner drive can enhance not only the teacher-student dynamic but may very well, “grow” the next millionaire.



Borghans, L.Golsteyn, B., Heckman, J., Humphries, J. (2016). What grades and achievement tests measure



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