The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov;6(6):574-88. doi: 10.1177/1745691611421204.


Over the past century, academic performance has become the gatekeeper to institutions of higher education, shaping career paths and individual life trajectories. Accordingly, much psychological research has focused on identifying predictors of academic performance, with intelligence and effort emerging as core determinants. In this article, we propose expanding on the traditional set of predictors by adding a third agency: intellectual curiosity. A series of path models based on a meta-analytically derived correlation matrix showed that (a) intelligence is the single most powerful predictor of academic performance; (b) the effects of intelligence on academic performance are not mediated by personality traits; (c) intelligence, Conscientiousness (as marker of effort), and Typical Intellectual Engagement (as marker of intellectual curiosity) are direct, correlated predictors of academic performance; and (d) the additive predictive effect of the personality traits of intellectual curiosity and effort rival that the influence of intelligence. Our results highlight that a "hungry mind" is a core determinant of individual differences in academic achievement.

Keywords: academic performance; conscientiousness; intellectual curiosity; intelligence; meta-analysis.