Amy Morin writes in Forbes this week about an interesting new study about grit. The study, is titled "When the going gets tough: Grit predicts costly perseverance." The authors are Gale Lucas, Jonathan Gratch, Lin Cheng, and Stacy Marsella. Note that a lengthy stream of research over the past decade or so has extolled the benefits of grit. What is grit? University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals." Duckworth has studied grit extensively in her academic career. She has found that intelligence is not always a good predictor of academic or professional success. Grit matters. For instance, she has found that, at West Point, a cadet's grit score is the best predictor of success in "Beast Barracks" – the incredibly challenging, six week summer training regimen that all new cadets must endure. Grit predicted success more so than intelligence, leadership ability or physical fitness.
The new study by Lucas and her colleagues examines whether grit may come with some negative consequences. Could it be possible for someone to exhibit "too much" grit in some circumstances, leading to poor results? In a series of studies, Lucas and her colleagues had subjects tackle very challenging tasks. What did they find?
Across three studies, we found that higher grit individuals invest more effort and persist in tasks that are not going well. Grittier participants were less willing to give up when failing even though they were likely to incur a cost for their persistence. In Study 1, grittier participants were able to complete fewer problems in an anagram task where some of the items should have been passed over (i.e., unsolvable items). This provides initial evidence that they persisted at a cost to themselves, in this case the cost of getting to attempt more problems. Because we incentivized performance (with entries into a lottery for $100), it seems that grittier participants were specifically trading off greater chances at monetary gains to persist at the more difficult questions. Compared to participants with lower grit, grittier participants not only increase effort when they are losing a game (Study 2), but also are more likely to stay and keep fighting a losing battle when they could quit (Study 3).