The Role of Noncognitive Skills in Explaining Cognitive Test Scores

11 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2008

See all articles by Lex Borghans

Lex Borghans

Maastricht University - Department of Economics; University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Huub Meijers

University of Maastricht - Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT)

Bas ter Weel

University of Amsterdam - SEO Economic Research; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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Abstract

This article examines whether noncognitive skills - measured both by personality traits and by 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.

JEL Classification: J20, J24

Suggested Citation

Borghans, Lex and Meijers, Huub and ter Weel, Bas, The Role of Noncognitive Skills in Explaining Cognitive Test Scores. Economic Inquiry, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 2-12, January 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1105978 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2007.00073.x

Lex Borghans (Contact Author)

Maastricht University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD
Netherlands

University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, MD6200
Netherlands

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Huub Meijers

University of Maastricht - Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://meijers.unu-merit.nl

Bas Ter Weel

University of Amsterdam - SEO Economic Research ( email )

Roetersstraat 29
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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