New research shows that grit can be costly and unnecessary.
What if it’s more important to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, and know when to walk away?
For a recent study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University put hundreds of participants through a series of three studies on grit. In each, the researchers quizzed subjects about how “gritty” they are, based on how much they agree with statements like, “Setbacks don’t discourage me” and “I finish whatever I begin.”
The first test was a set of anagrams, or word scrambles, which participants were rewarded for solving by being entered into a $100 lottery for each correct answer. Sprinkled amid the do-able anagrams were 16 unsolvable words and 21 very difficult ones, like “kismet.” The participants who ranked higher on the grit assessment attempted fewer anagrams overall—a sign they didn’t skip the difficult or unsolvable ones like their less determined peers did.
Next came a computer-game exercise, which the researchers rigged such that some participants would feel like they were losing for much of the game. The grittier subjects worked harder when they were losing, but not when they were winning.
For the final test, the researchers gave the subjects a math game, which was also rigged so that some of the participants felt like they were fighting an uphill battle. They also gave the participants an offer: When things got tough, they could either drop out of the experiment and get $1 for their troubles, or they could press on and get $2 if they won, but nothing if they lost. Grittier people didn’t solve any more math problems than their lazier counterparts, even though they felt more optimistic about the test than the others. They were, however, more likely to continue the game when they were losing, even though they risked walking away with nothing.
It would seem, then, that grit comes with a downside.