Why Grit And Conscientiousness Are Cognitive Skills—And Why It Matters
Ellen Galinsky, author of Minds In The Making, makes an important point about “non-cognitive skills”—the capacities like perseverance, conscientiousness, and “grit” that we’ve all been talking about thanks to Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed.” Actually, Galinsky points out, these skills are cognitive:
“These skills require intellect and are indeed cognitive skills as much as they’re social and emotional skills. If we don’t get the language right, we risk seeing the focus on skills end up as an education flavor of the month.
. . . All of these skills are based on executive functions of the brain. These are the brain functions we use to manage our attention, our emotions, and our behavior in pursuit of our goals. Adele Diamond, one of the foremost researchers on executive functions, finds that they predict children’s success as well as—if not better than—IQ tests, as she explains:
‘Typical traditional IQ tests measure what’s called crystallized intelligence, which is mostly your recall of what you’ve already learned–like what’s the meaning of this word, or what’s the capital of that country? What executive functions tap is your ability to use what you already know–to be creative with it, to problem-solve with it–so it’s very related to fluid intelligence, because that requires reasoning and using information.’” (Read more here.)
I love that distinction—it’s not just what you know but what you do with what you know that makes the difference.
But I wish Ellen had been more explicit about what we lose when we call these “non-cognitive skills.” Is it simply a question of accuracy? Or is she concerned that we’ll only value these skills over the long term if we view them as cognitive? Ellen, would love to hear your thoughts.