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

34 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2014

See all articles by Stephen V. Burks

Stephen V. Burks

University of Minnesota, Morris - Division of Social Science; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); Center for Decision Research and Experimental Economics (CeDEx); Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota

Connor Lewis

University of Minnesota - Morris

Paul Kivi

University of Minnesota - Morris

Amanda Wiener

University of Minnesota - Morris

Jon Anderson

University of Minnesota - Morris

Lorenz Götte

University of Lausanne

Colin G. DeYoung

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Aldo Rustichini

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Economics

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.

Keywords: graduation, Big Five, cognitive skill, backward induction, economic preferences, GPA

JEL Classification: D03, I21, C99

Suggested Citation

Burks, Stephen V. and Lewis, Connor and Kivi, Paul and Wiener, Amanda and Anderson, Jon and Götte, Lorenz and DeYoung, Colin G. and Rustichini, Aldo, Moving Ahead by Thinking Backwards: Cognitive Skills, Personality, and Economic Preferences in Collegiate Success. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7952. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2399771

Stephen V. Burks (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota, Morris - Division of Social Science ( email )

600 East 4th St.
Morris, MN 56267
United States
320-589-6191 (Phone)
320-589-6117 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.morris.umn.edu/academics/truckingproject/

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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

HOME PAGE: http://www.iza.org/en/webcontent/personnel/photos/index_html?key=1883

Center for Decision Research and Experimental Economics (CeDEx) ( email )

University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cedex/people/external/index.aspx

Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota ( email )

200 Transportation & Safety Bldg.
511 Washington Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN
United States
612-626-1077 (Phone)
612-625-6381 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.cts.umn.edu/

Connor Lewis

University of Minnesota - Morris

109 Camden Hall
Morris, MN 56267
United States

Paul Kivi

University of Minnesota - Morris ( email )

109 Camden Hall
Morris, MN 56267
United States

Amanda Wiener

University of Minnesota - Morris ( email )

109 Camden Hall
Morris, MN 56267
United States

Jon Anderson

University of Minnesota - Morris

109 Camden Hall
Morris, MN 56267
United States

Lorenz Götte

University of Lausanne

Lausanne, Vaud CH-1015
Switzerland

Colin G. DeYoung

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities ( email )

420 Delaware St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Aldo Rustichini

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Economics ( email )

271 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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