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Moving Ahead by Thinking Backwards: Cognitive Skills, Personality, and Economic Preferences in Collegiate Success

Author

Listed:
  • Burks, Stephen V.

    () (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Lewis, Connor

    (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Kivi, Paul

    () (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Wiener, Amanda

    () (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Anderson, Jon E.

    () (University of Minnesota, Morris)

  • Götte, Lorenz

    () (University of Bonn)

  • DeYoung, Colin G.

    () (University of Minnesota)

  • Rustichini, Aldo

    () (University of Minnesota)

Abstract

We collected personality (Big Five) and demographic characteristics, and ran incentivized experiments measuring cognitive skills (non-verbal IQ, numeracy, backward induction/ planning), and economic (time, risk) preferences, with 100 students at a small public undergraduate liberal arts college in the Midwestern US as part of a larger study that collected the same measures from 1,065 trainee truckers. Using standardized (z-score) versions of our variables we analyze their relative power to predict (1) timely graduation (four years or less), (2) graduation in six years or less, and (3) final GPA. The proactive aspect of Conscientious (but not the inhibitive one) has a large and robust positive effect on all three outcomes, and Agreeableness has a robust negative effect on both graduation outcomes, but not on GPA. Economic time preferences predict graduation in four years, and GPA. Cognitive skill measures predict as expected if entered individually in a multivariate model, but when all variables compete it is only our backward induction measure ("Hit15") that weakly predicts graduation in four years, and strongly predicts graduation in six years. Trainee truckers work in a different vocational setting and their results are appropriately different, but there is a common element: Hit15 also predicts their job success (completing a one year employment contract that makes training free). We interpret Hit15 as capturing a specific part of the cognitive skills required for self-management in non-routine settings – thinking backward from future goals to make the best current choice – that is not well measured by existing instruments, and suggest this deserves further scientific and institutional scrutiny.

Suggested Citation

  • Burks, Stephen V. & Lewis, Connor & Kivi, Paul & Wiener, Amanda & Anderson, Jon E. & Götte, Lorenz & DeYoung, Colin G. & Rustichini, Aldo, 2014. "Moving Ahead by Thinking Backwards: Cognitive Skills, Personality, and Economic Preferences in Collegiate Success," IZA Discussion Papers 7952, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7952
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stratton, Leslie S. & O'Toole, Dennis M. & Wetzel, James N., 2008. "A multinomial logit model of college stopout and dropout behavior," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 319-331, June.
    2. Burks, Stephen & Carpenter, Jeffrey & Götte, Lorenz & Rustichini, Aldo, 2012. "Which measures of time preference best predict outcomes: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 308-320.
    3. Lex Borghans & Angela Lee Duckworth & James J. Heckman & Bas ter Weel, 2008. "The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    4. Stephen V. Burks & Jeffrey Carpenter & Lorenz Götte & Kristen Monaco & Kay Porter & Aldo Rustichini, 2008. "Using Behavioral Economic Field Experiments at a Firm: The Context and Design of the Truckers and Turnover Project," NBER Chapters,in: The Analysis of Firms and Employees: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches, pages 45-106 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Gneezy, Uri & Rustichini, Aldo & Vostroknutov, Alexander, 2010. "Experience and insight in the Race game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 144-155, August.
    6. Joseph Henrich & Steve J. Heine & Ara Norenzayan, 2010. "The Weirdest People in the World?," Working Paper Series of the German Council for Social and Economic Data 139, German Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD).
    7. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    economic preferences; graduation; Big Five; cognitive skill; backward induction; GPA;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • C99 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Other

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