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Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management

Vol. 27, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 105–116

Personality Predicts Academic


Performance: Exploring the
moderating role of gender
N. T. Nguyen*, Larry C. Allen and K. Fraccastoro
Lamar University, Texas, USA

In this study, students’ personality traits were investigated in relation to course grade in an
undergraduate management course taught by the same professor and overall college grade point
average (GPA). Conscientiousness positively and significantly predicted overall GPA over and
beyond other personality traits of agreeableness, extroversion, emotional stability and intellect,
accounting for unique variance in final course grade and overall GPA. Gender was consistently
found to moderate the personality–academic performance relationship (as measured by GPA).
Specifically, emotional stability positively and significantly predicted academic performance among
male students, but not so among females. Intellect positively and significantly predicted academic
performance among male students, but the same relationship was nonexistent among female
students. Discussion was offered relative to the importance of personality traits in predicting
academic performance.

Introduction
The relationship between students’ personality and their academic performance
among college students has been well established in previous research. For example,
the personality trait of conscientiousness has been consistently shown to have
moderate predictive validity of academic performance over and beyond cognitive
measures of general intelligence, standardised test scores such as SAT and high
school coursework performance both in the USA and the UK (e.g., Wolfe &
Johnson, 1995; Tross, Harper, Osher & Kneidinger, 2000; Chamorro-Premuzic &
Furnham, 2003; Lounsbury, Sundstrom, Loveland & Gibson, 2003). Although past
research has shown personality as a valid predictor of academic performance, the
nature of this relationship as well as the mechanism that operates in affecting
the performance of male and female college students remains unexplored. Given

*Corresponding author. Department of Management and Marketing, PO Box 10025, Lamar


Universiuty, Beaumont, TX 77710, USA. Email: nhung.nguyen@lamar.edu
ISSN 1360-080X (print)/ISSN 1469-9508 (online)/05/010105-12
ß 2005 Association for Tertiary Education Management
DOI: 10.1080/13600800500046313
106 N. T. Nguyen et al.

the well-documented gender differences in personality (e.g., Costa, Terracciano


& McCrae, 2001), we argue that the predictive validity of personality traits on
academic performance may be different across male and female students. Therefore,
the purpose of this study is to replicate previous research findings concerning the
predictive validity of student personality in college performance and to explore the
role of gender as a potential moderator of this relationship.
The Five Factor Model (FFM) consisting of agreeableness, conscientiousness,
extraversion, neuroticism (reverse scoring of emotional stability) and openness
to experience (intellect) has received considerable support in terms of its robust-
ness and generalisation across theoretical frameworks, assessment methods (self versus
peer rating) and cultures (see Hogan & Ones, 1997; Saucier & Goldberg, 2003).
The first personality factor, labelled agreeableness, has also been called likeability,
friendliness, social conformity and love. Traits associated with this factor include being
good-natured, flexible, cooperative, trusting, soft-hearted and tolerant (Saucier & Goldberg,
2003). Other researchers (e.g., Johnson, 2003) interpreted this factor as consisting of four
sub-facets of warmth/affection, gentleness, generosity and modesty/humility.
The second personality factor, labelled conscientiousness, has typically been called
conscience, conformity and dependability. It has also been called Will to Achieve or
Will (e.g., Digman, 1989) due to its consistent positive association with a variety of
educational success measures. Traits associated with conscientiousness are being
careful, thorough, responsible, organised, achievement-oriented, diligent and
persevering. Other researchers (e.g., Johnson, 2003) interpreted this dimension as
consisting of three sub-facets of orderliness, decisiveness/consistency and reliability/
industriousness.
The third factor, labelled extraversion, has also been called surgency (e.g.,
Goldberg, 1999). Traits associated with this factor include being sociable, assertive,
dominant, talkative, active and gregarious. Other researchers (e.g., Johnson, 2003)
interpreted this factor as consisting of four sub-facets of sociability, unrestraint,
assertiveness and activity/adventurousness.
The fourth factor, labelled neuroticism or emotional stability reversed scored, has
also been called emotionality or stability. Traits associated with this factor include
being depressed, angry, emotional, anxious, insecure and worried. Other researchers
(e.g., Johnson, 2003) interpreted this dimension as consisting of three sub-facets of
irritability, security and emotionality.
The fifth factor, labelled intellect or openness to experience, has also been called
intellectence (e.g., McCrae & Costa, 1985) or culture (e.g., Norman, 1963). Traits
associated with this factor include being curious, imaginative, intelligent, open-minded,
original and artistically sensitive.

Hypotheses Development
In this study, we expect to replicate previous research findings concerning the
relationships between personality and academic performance among college students.
Specifically, two personality factors of conscientiousness and emotional stability were
Personality Predicts Academic Performance 107

consistently found to positively predict academic performance (e.g., Wolfe & Johnson,
1995). Conscientiousness is related to academic success because students who are
responsible, hardworking and achievement orientated are more self-motivated than
those who are not so. Motivation is an important characteristic for not only coursework
accomplishment, but general task accomplishment as well. Emotional stability is related
to academic success because students who display neurotic characteristics such as
worry, nervousness and self-pity tend to overreact to situational cues (e.g., coursework
feedback), and thus inhibit rather than facilitate coursework accomplishment. Thus, we
expect that the validity of these two factors will generalise across student groups and
criterion categories. Previous research has shown that there are well-documented gender
differences in personality traits. Specifically, many meta-analytical studies showed that
women consistently scored lower than men on emotional stability (d50.5) (e.g., Costa
et al., 2001). Given this gender difference in emotional stability, we expect that the
influence of this personality factor on academic success might be weaker among women
than men. Speaking differently, the emotional stability — academic performance
relationship might vary as a function of students’ gender. In contrast, Feingold’s (1994)
meta-analysis showed male/female difference in conscientiousness to be negligible
(women scoring 0.07 standard deviation higher than men). Based on the above
discussion, the following hypotheses emerge:

H 1: The personality trait of conscientiousness will be positively and significantly


correlated with course grade and overall GPA.
H 2a: The personality trait of emotional stability will be positively and significantly
correlated with both course grade and overall GPA.
H 2b: The emotional stability–academic performance relationship will be moderated by
gender of students such that the above relationship will be stronger among male than
female students for both course grade and overall GPA.

We expect that the remaining three personality factors may be related to course
performance, but the relationship might be more pronounced for some courses than
others. Thus, these personality factors might be valid predictors for an individual
criterion such as course grade, but not for an aggregated criterion such as overall GPA.
For example, we expect that Extraversion and Agreeableness will be valid predictors of
course performance in which teamwork is required because frequent interaction and/or
cooperation with others are a sine qua non in such courses. However, in courses where
independent work and thinking is emphasised, extraversion and agreeableness might
distract students from focusing on finishing their own work. In this study, we expect
extraversion to be negatively related to course grade performance given the independent
work emphasis of the management course taught by the first author. There are virtually
no reported gender differences in the personality traits of extraversion. We therefore
proposed the following hypothesis:

H 3: The personality trait of extraversion will be negatively and significantly correlated with
course grade performance.
108 N. T. Nguyen et al.

Regarding the personality trait of intellect or openness to experience, previous


research showed differential patterns of findings between its sub-facets in gender.
Specifically, women were found to describe themselves higher in Openness to
Feelings, whereas men higher in Openness to Ideas (Costa et al., 2001). Given these
findings, we expect Openness to Experience to have a stronger influence on
academic performance among male students than female students. Thus, we
hypothesize:

H 4s: The personality trait of Intellect will be positively and significantly correlated with
course grade and overall GPA.
H 4b: The intellect–academic performance relationship will be moderated by gender of
students such that the above relationship will be stronger among male than female
students.

Method
Sample
A total 368 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in business courses at a
Southern university participated in this study in exchange for partial course credit.
Of these students, 179 (48.6%) were males, and 189 (51.4%) were females. The
majority of participants identified themselves as Whites (72%) or 285 with 17.4% or
64 as Blacks, 3.8% or 14 as Asians, 5.7% or 21 as Hispanics, and 1.1% or 4 reported
as ‘‘other’’. Eight participants were transfer students at the time the study was
conducted and, thus, their overall grade-point average information was not readily
available to be included in the analysis. Transfer students are those students who
began their studies at another university, moved to the current university system and
received university credit for similar courses taken. Grades for transferred classes are
not included in the GPA calculation. By eliminating transfer students, the final
sample for subsequent analysis was 360.

Procedure
The personality inventory was administered during class time. Participants signed a
consent form and were asked to respond honestly to the inventory. The following
instruction was used:

On the following pages, there are phrases describing people’s behaviors. Please use the rating
scale below to describe how accurately each statement describes you. Describe yourself as you
generally are now, not as you wish to be in the future. Describe yourself as you honestly see
yourself, in relation to other people you know of the same sex as you are, and roughly your
same age. So that you can describe yourself in an honest manner, your responses will be kept
in absolute confidence.
Personality Predicts Academic Performance 109

Measures
Personality
The Big 5 personality inventory, developed by Goldberg (http://ipip.ori.org/ipip) was used
in this study. The inventory we used consists of 50 items taken from a large pool of
personality items available for public use on the International personality item pool website.
The inventory measures personality dimensions of the Big 5 model — i.e.,
agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness and openness to
experience. Each dimension was indicated by 10 Likert-type items. Respondents were
asked to indicate the accuracy of each item as a descriptor of themselves with a number
ranging from 1, ‘‘very inaccurate’’, to 5, ‘‘very accurate’’. The scales have been validated
against other established scales (e.g., NEO-PI) and shown to have good reliabilities
(Goldberg, 1999, and in press). The internal consistency reliability estimates of the five
dimensions in this study were 0.89 for extraversion, 0.83 for agreeableness, 0.82 for
conscientiousness, 0.86 for emotional stability and 0.77 for intellect.

Academic Performance
We use a final course grade in an undergraduate management course and overall grade
point average (GPA) as two indicators of academic performance. Similar to the
Australian college grading system, the US grading policy varies from college to college.
Specifically, coursework assessment is typically determined by grading various assign-
ments such as exams, case studies, team projects, quizzes and Internet exercises. The
summed score of all of the assignments is used to determine the overall course grade.
The letter grade is finally assigned to students’ coursework performance as follows:
A590% or above; B580% to 89.9%; C570% to 79.9%; D560% to 69.9%; and
F5less than 60%. Compared to the Australian grading system, these letters grade have
similar meanings to A5high distinction; B5distinction; C5credit; D5Pass; F5Fail.
Course grade is counted toward students’ grade point average (GPA) such that an A54
points, B53 points, C52 points, D51 point and F50 points. All courses contribute
equally to the overall college grade point average. For example, a GPA of 4.0 indicates
that the student received all A grades in his/her entire college education. Students need
to maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. Due to
the fact that students included in this study came from different majors, to maintain
comparability (success in different courses may be associated with differential
personality traits), only final course grade of management courses taught by the first
author was included. Students’ grade point average data were retrieved from the
university’s records.

Results
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics and correlation matrix among variables of the
study for the combined sample of both male and female students (N5360). Table 2
110 N. T. Nguyen et al.

Table 1. Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations among variables in the study (whole sample,
N5360, except for grade, N5200)

Mean Std. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

1. Gender .51 .50 –


2. Race 1.28 .45 .068 –
3. Grade 2.96 .98 .190 2.141 –
4. GPA 2.76 .63 .137 2.089 .747 –
5. Extraversion 2.54 8.20 2.036 2.013 2.185 2.083 .89
6. Agreeableness 15.76 6.21 .266 2.042 .166 .052 .309 .83
7. Conscientiousness 13.97 6.36 .112 2.011 .212 .180 .121 .239 .82
8. Emotional stability 216.08 7.99 2.280 2.076 2.167 .000 .176 .042 .113 .86
9. Intellect 18.11 5.54 2.257 2.075 .115 .074 .283 .195 .181 .304 .77

Notes: Correlations5or ..11 are significant at p,.05 (two-tailed); correlations5or ..13 are significant at
p,.01 (two-tailed). Internal consistency reliability estimates are along the diagonal. Gender is coded as
‘‘1’’5Female, ‘‘0’’5Male; Race is coded as ‘‘1’’5White, ‘‘2’’5Non-White; grade5final course grade is coded as
‘‘4’’5A, ‘‘3’’5B, ‘‘2’’5C, ‘‘1’’5D, ‘‘0’’5F; and GPA5grade point average.

Table 2. Intercorrelations among variables in the study, by gender of participants

Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1. Race – 2.202 2.129 2.015 2.165 2.004 .120 2.080


2. Grade 2.081 .781 2.202 .145 .224 2.185 .058
3. GPA 2.067 .697 2.144 2.061 .151 2.087 .048
4. Extraversion .049 2.144 2.006 .355 .118 .027 .286
5. Agreeableness .041 .085 .097 .306 .230 .024 .271
6. Conscientiousness 2.035 .149 .186 .134 .208 .102 .194
7. Emotional stability .078 2.009 .170 .324 .223 .200 .125
8. Intellect 2.037 .296 .186 .281 .294 .244 .376 –

Note: The correlation matrix for male participants is shown in the lower triangle, for female participants it is
shown in the upper triangle; N for males5175, except for grade, N589; N for females5185, except for grade,
N5111; correlations5or ..15 are significant at p,.05 (two-tailed); correlations5or ..20 are significant at
p,.01 (two-tailed).

shows the same broken down by gender with the lower triangle portion reflecting the
relationships among variables of the study for male students (N5175) and the upper
triangle portion reflecting the same for female students (N5185). Table 3 shows the
hierarchical moderated regression analysis results for personality traits and gender as
predictors of academic performance.
Hypothesis 1 states that the personality trait of conscientiousness will be positively
and significantly correlated with academic performance. Table 1 confirms this
expectation. The correlation between conscientiousness and course grade was
positive and significant (r50.212, p,0.01). The correlation between conscientious-
ness and GPA was also positive and significant (r50.180, p,0.01). Thus, hypothesis
1 was supported. Conscientious students were more likely to perform well in class
than less conscientious students. Further, as shown in Table 4, conscientiousness
Personality Predicts Academic Performance 111

Table 3. Gender differences on Goldberg’s Big 5 personality factor scale scores

Levene’s test for equality of


variances t-test for equality of means
Significance
Big 5 scale d F Significance t (2-tailed) Direction

Female/male difference
Extraversion 2.075 .114 .735 2.720 .472 F,M
Agreeableness .557 .017 .897 5.336** .000 F.M
Conscientiousness .227 .133 .716 2.183* .030 F.M
Emotional stability 2.591 1.119 .291 25.646** .000 F,M
Intellect 2.512 .006 .936 4.897** .000 F,M

Note: *p,.05 (two-tailed); **p,.01 (two-tailed).

alone added an incremental variance of 2.3% in predicting final course grade and 2%
in predicting overall GPA above and beyond what was already accounted for by
other personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability and
intellect, controlling for demographic factors of race and gender. This finding was
consistent with previous research (e.g., Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003) and
showed that motivation in the form of diligence and responsibility (sub-facets of
conscientiousness) did matter.
Hypothesis 2a states that the personality trait of emotional stability will be
positively and significantly correlated with academic performance. Contrary to our
expectation, the correlation between emotional stability and course grade was
negative and significant (r520.167, p,0.01). The correlation between emotional
stability and GPA was zero. However, Table 2 reveals an interesting finding.
Specifically, emotional stability was positively and significantly related to GPA
(r50.170, p,0.01) among male students, but not so among females. Thus,
hypothesis 2a received mixed support. Hypothesis 2b states that gender will
moderate the relationship between emotional stability and academic performance
such that the relationship will be stronger among males than female students. To
test this hypothesis, we performed two hierarchical moderated regression analyses
(one for course grade and one for overall GPA) in which variables were entered in
steps.
In step 1, we entered demographic variables of gender and race because we wanted
to partial out any variance in academic performance (i.e., course grade and overall
GPA) that might have been attributable to these demographic factors. In step 2, we
entered the four personality traits of agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability
and intellect as a set. In step 3, we entered the personality trait of conscientiousness.
Steps 2 and 3 were done to specifically gauge how much of an impact personality
traits as a whole, as well as conscientiousness particularly, had on academic
performance. In step 4, we entered two interaction terms of emotional stability
and gender and intellect and gender to test the moderating effect of gender on
the personality trait–academic performance relationship. As shown in Table 4,
112 N. T. Nguyen et al.

emotional stability and gender was found to add significant unique variance in
overall GPA (t522.202, p,0.05), but not course grade. Figure 1 shows the
graphical effect of this interaction term, which was stronger among male than female
students. Thus, hypothesis 2b was partially supported.
Hypothesis 3 states that the personality trait of extraversion will be negatively and
significantly correlated with academic performance. Table 1 shows the correlation
between extraversion and course grade to be significant and negative (r520.185,
p,0.01). However, the correlation between extraversion and overall GPA failed to
reach statistical significance although it was in the predicted direction. Table 2 shows
the same pattern of finding for both males and females. A more conclusive finding is
revealed in Table 4.
Extraversion was found to consistently and negatively predict both final course
grade (t523.399, p,0.01) and overall GPA (t522.465, p,0.01) after controlling
for race and gender of students (see Table 4). Thus, hypothesis 3 was supported.
Students who were talkative and sociable were less likely to do well in class.
Hypothesis 4a states that the personality trait of intellect will be positively and
significantly correlated with academic performance. Table 4 shows that intellect
positively and significantly predicted course grade (t52.911, p,0.01), but failed to
reach statistical significance in predicting overall GPA (t51.627, p.0.05). Thus,
hypothesis 4a was partially supported. Hypothesis 4b states that gender of students
will moderate the relationship between intellect and academic performance such that
the relationship will be stronger among male than female students. Table 4 shows
that the interaction term of intellect and gender significantly predicted final course
grade in management (t522.083, p,0.05), but failed to reach statistical significance

Figure 1. Interaction effect of gender and emotional stability on grade point average
Personality Predicts Academic Performance 113

in predicting overall GPA (t520.594, p.0.05). Figure 2 shows the effect to be


stronger among male than female students.
Our results shown in Table 3 concerning male/female differences in personality
were concordant with previous research (e.g., Costa et al., 2001; Feingold, 1994;
Ones & Anderson, 2002). Specifically, male students reported themselves higher
on Emotional Stability (a difference of .59 standard deviation) and Intellect (a
difference of 0.51 standard deviation), and females higher on agreeableness (a
difference of 0.56 standard deviation) and conscientiousness (a difference of 0.23
standard deviation). We also found no significant gender differences in extraversion.
This, too, was consistent with previous research.

Discussion
In this study, we sought to investigate: (a) the extent to which personality traits
predict academic performance among college students, and (b) the moderating role
of gender in the personality — academic performance relationship. Concerning the

Table 4. Hierarchical Moderated Regression Results for Personality Predictors of Academic


Performance

Final Course Grade GPA


Dependent variables
Predictors b t b t

Step 1
Gender .433 .1.341 .019 .080
Race 2.079 21.188 2.089 21.720
F 5.075** 5.209**
(2,195) (2,357)
Adjusted R2 .040** .023**
Step 2
Extraversion 2.240 23.39** 2.138 22.465*
Agreeableness .164 2.173** 2.022 2.373
Emotional stability 2.126 21.047 .142 1.748
Intellect .336 2.911** .136 1.627
F 5.359** 2.357*
(4,191) (4,353)
Adjusted R2 .119** .038*
Step 3
Conscientiousness .177 2.603** .156 2.916**
F 6.192** 8.591**
(1,190) (1,352)
Adjusted R2 .142* .058**
Step 4
Emotional stability6gender 2.155 2.723 2.325 22.202*
Intellect6gender 2.514 22.083* 2.109 2.594
F 3.132* 3.163*
(2,188) (2,350)
Adjusted R2 .161 .069

Note: *p,.05 (two-tailed); **p,.01 (two-tailed).


114 N. T. Nguyen et al.

Figure 2. Interaction effect of gender and intellect on final course grade

first research question, our results generally replicated previous research findings
using a different measure of personality, i.e., Goldberg’s (1999) Big 5 personality
factor (Digman, 1990). Specifically, our study corroborates previous research (e.g.,
Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003) in pinpointing conscientiousness as a prime
factor aiding overall academic performance among college students. Our results
coupled with previous research showing the same pattern of finding in under-
graduate psychology course grade (e.g., Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003) as
well as graduate business course grade (e.g., Rothstein, Paunonen, Rush & King,
1994), provided evidence that conscientiousness might be the valid predictor of
academic performance across settings. Our findings concerning gender differences in
personality also replicated previous research using a different measure of personality.
We therefore suspect that that there might not be as much measure-specific variance
as previous researchers might have claimed (e.g., Feingold, 1994). However, this
question is certainly noteworthy of future research. Given the reportedly consider-
able gender differences in personality, our results raised concern over the adverse
impact of the potential use of personality tests for college admission purposes. The
standardised male/female differences were small to moderate by commonly accepted
standards (Cohen, 1988).

Limitations of the present study


There are several limitations to the study that should be noted. First, we realise that
we were unable to test for the incremental predictive validity of personality
Personality Predicts Academic Performance 115

constructs over and above general intelligence or cognitive ability such as


standardised test scores. Second, the cross-sectional nature of the data in this study
limits the causality of the findings reported herein. Future research should replicate
this study using longitudinal data with a more diverse set of criteria (e.g., course
grade in different courses).

Conclusion
An ultimate goal in college admission has been the quest for a set of predictors with
high level of criterion-related validity and low adverse impact. Traditionally, college
admission is based on ability measures (e.g., general intelligence), rather than non-
ability measures (e.g., personality). This study shows that personality explains a
significant portion of variance in course grade (16%) and overall GPA (7%). It
signals to college officials that the time has come to consider personality as an
admission factor. Indeed, one may need to be cautious about the potential adverse
impact in personality due to gender differences. However, the differences are small
to moderate and definitely smaller than what have been found in ability measures.
We hope that this study will stimulate further research to provide support for the use
of personality measures in college admission.

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