'James Heckman' photo (c) 2011, Instituto Ayrton Senna - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Thanks to Matthew Di Carlo at The Shanker Blog, today I learned about a new research paper by Nobel-Prize winner James Heckman.

It’s called Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition.

It’s a lengthy one. I’ve copied and pasted a few short excerpts that I thought were particularly important.

You can see all my previous posts about Professor Heckman’s work here. The most important one is titled Prof. James Heckman Says Adolescence Is Key Time To Teach (& Learn About) Self-Control & Perseverance.

Here are the excerpts (the numbers are footnotes you can see the actual paper):

Achievement test scores predict only a small fraction of the variance in later-life success. For example, adolescent achievement test scores only explain about 15% of the variance in later-life earnings.4 It is unlikely that measurement error accounts for most of the remainingvariance.5 Something fundamental is missing.

Achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills such as conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity, which are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains. Until recently these skills have largely been ignored. However, in recent research economists and psychologists have constructed measures of these skills and provide evidence that they are stable across situations and predict meaningful life outcomes.6…

Skills are not set in stone at birth. They can be improved. Cognitive and character skills change with age and with instruction. Interventions to improve skills are effective to different degrees for different skills at different ages. Importantly, character skills are more malleable at later ages…

These problems are empirically important. For example, incentives partly determine scores on IQ tests. A series of studies conducted over the past 40 years show that incentives, like money or candy, can increase IQ scores, particularly among low-IQ individuals. The black{white gap in IQ can be completely eliminated by giving M&M candies for correct answers.33 However, there is no evidence that this performance persists. It has not been shown that creating incentives for performance on one test improves performance on subsequent tests, and , in fact, may worsen subsequent performance (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Ryan and Deci, 2000)