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The Role of Noncognitive Skills in Explaining Cognitive Test Scores

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Author Info

  • Borghans, Lex

    ()
    (Maastricht University)

  • Meijers, Huub

    ()
    (Maastricht University)

  • ter Weel, Bas

    ()
    (CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis)

Abstract

This paper examines whether noncognitive skills – measured both by personality traits and economic preference parameters – influence cognitive tests performance. The basic idea is that noncognitive skills might affect the effort people put into a test to obtain good results. We experimentally varied the rewards for questions in a cognitive test to measure to what extent people are sensitive to financial incentives. To distinguish increased mental effort from extra time investments we also varied the questions’ time constraints. Subjects with favorable personality traits such as high performance-motivation and an internal locus of control perform relatively well in the absence of rewards; consistent with a model in which trying as hard as you can is the best strategy. In contrast, favorable economic preference parameters (low discount rate, low risk aversion) are associated with increases in time investments when incentives are introduced, consistent with a rational economic model in which people only invest when there are monetary returns. The main conclusion is that individual behavior at cognitive tests depends on noncognitive skills.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 2429.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Economic Inquiry, 2008, 46 (1), 2-12
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp2429

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Keywords: cognitive test scores; noncognitive skills;

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  1. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  2. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
  3. Shane Frederick, 2005. "Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 25-42, Fall.
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