You would have never guessed this one. (Photo: Molly Decoudreaux)
Whether or not you ace that job interview depends on a lot of things. But, a new study suggests that one personality trait in childhood may be especially important for your job success throughout your life.
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The study, published online yesterday in Psychological Science, was actually a combination of two British studies that tracked participants’ employment throughout their lives. The first one used the British Cohort Study, which included four decades of data for a group of 6,657 people born in a single week in 1970. The second study included data for an additional 10,107 participants from age 16 through 50, collected from the British National Child Development Study. Both studies also included measures of childhood personality traits as well as other factors such as general intelligence.
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In both studies, results showed that displaying self-control by the age of 11 was highly correlated with employment throughout participants’ lives. In the first study, this amounted to participants with low self-control experiencing 2.8 times as many months of being unemployed over 22 years, when compared to those with high self-control. In the second study, the difference was even bigger: Those with low self-control had about three times as many months of unemployment as the highly self-controlled. This amounted to an average of 17.7 months spent unemployed — compared to just 5.43 for those with more self-control.
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These results aren’t surprising: Self-control, often thought of as an ability to keep ourselves from acting on our behavioral or emotional impulses, is clearly an important trait to have for a successful work life. After all, you’re not going to get too far in an office job if you actually indulge every impulse to get up from your desk and leave.
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What’s most interesting is that self-control was a significant predictor of employment even after controlling for variations in social class, basic intelligence, and many other factors. So, these results suggest that this one little trait may be doing a lot more than we realize. Thankfully, even though you can’t go back in time to become a more self-controlled kid, you might be able to reduce your impulsivity now.
By Sarah Jacoby
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