How do temperament and character play a role in students’ approach to learning?

Students with a deep approach to learning tend to have character traits associated with openness, conscientiousness, and a “steady temperament.”

Key Takeaway:  Students with a deep approach to learning tend to have character traits associated with openness, conscientiousness, and a “steady temperament.” Educators can focus on fostering these traits in the classroom to increase students’ self-awareness and self-management skills, which students use to motivate themselves, set achievable personal and academic goals, and develop a growth mindset. —Shekufeh Monadjem

In the first study of its kind, the author Paulo Moreira, together with a group of researchers, investigated how different personality traits influenced students' attitudes towards learning. The research was conducted with a study group of 686 adolescents with different approaches to learning.  

Two major approaches to learning were identified—the deep approach and the surface approach. 

The Deep Approach: “When a student adopts a deep approach to an academic task, this is to say that their underlying guiding intention is to maximize intellectual understanding and extract meaning from the task. There is also an intrinsic motivation to learn.” The qualities of openness, conscientiousness, and a “steady temperament” have also been linked to personalities that show a deep approach. Studies have shown a positive association between the deep approach and academic performance.1,2 

The Surface Approach: Academic performance is typically lower in those students who display a surface approach to their learning.3.4 “When a student adopts a surface approach, the guiding motivation is extrinsic to the task. The resulting strategies for a given task under this approach, such as rote learning, are characterized by low investment and low effort.”

Furthemore, other traits were identified in the study group:

  • Novelty seeking—seeking new experiences with intense emotional sensations
  • Harm avoidance—a tendency to respond intensely to negative stimuli
  • Reward dependance—a positive response and maintenance of behaviour in response to rewards
  • Persistence—the tendency to continue with a behaviour despite the absence of a reward

Students identified as having a deep approach to learning showed low harm avoidance, low novelty seeking, and high persistence, as well as high cooperativeness and high self-directedness. Whereas, those that adopted a surface approach to their learning showed an opposite pattern of high harm avoidance and low self-directedness as well as neuroticism. These self-regulatory aspects of personality are important for helping students gain a more adaptive approach to learning. 

Students showing high persistence in their personalities were also found to be “ambitious, enthusiastic, and tireless overachievers.”5 

Because character is changeable, it can be developed and improved with the help of interventions to gain a more mature outlook. Adolescents with a mature character might be described as “responsible, resourceful, socially tolerant, empathic, principled, patient, and creative.”6 “Consequently, one practical implication of the study is that teachers and schools may be able to use character-development interventions with certain types of students, (i.e., those with a steady temperament profile) to encourage more adaptive approaches to learning and their associated positive academic outcomes.”

Mindfulness-based interventions are also an option that can be used to influence students to strengthen self-esteem and sense of mastery (i.e., self-directedness). Likewise, the results of the study also suggested that different types of interventions would be effective for students with different personality types. Educator awareness of character traits associated with deep learning allows for evidence-informed interventions focusing on fostering these traits to be harnessed in the classroom. 

Article Summarized

Moreira, P. A., Inman, R. A., Rosa, I., Cloninger, K., Duarte, A., & Robert Cloninger, C. (2021). The psychobiological model of personality and its association with student approaches to learning: Integrating temperament and character. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 65(4), 693-709.

Summary by: Shekufeh Monadjem—Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enables students to view the world in a positive light as well as enabling them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success.

Additional References:

  1. Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students’ academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 353–387. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026838
  2. Watkins, D. (2001). Correlates of approaches to learning: A cross-cultural meta-analysis. In R. J. Sternberg, & L. F.
  3. Diseth, A. (2003). Personality and approaches to learning as predictors of academic achievement. European Journal of Personality, 17(2), 143–155. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.469 
  4. Diseth, A. (2013). Personality as an indirect predictor of academic achievement via student course experience and approach to learning. Social Behavior and Personality, 41(8), 1297–1308. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2013.41.8. 1297
  5. Cloninger, C. R., Zohar, A. H., Hirschmann, S., & Dahan, D. (2012). The psychological costs and benefits of being highly persistent: Personality profiles distinguish mood disorders from anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 136(3), 758–766.
  6. Cloninger, C. R. (2004). Feeling good: The science of well-being. Oxford University Press.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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