Perhaps a hint at why right-wingers hate academia.

Yesterday I read about a new study—I cannot read the actual paper itself of course because it is behind a fucking paywall—that examined non-academic characteristics of a sample of incoming freshman to see which factors might predict their success or failure at college. High school grades are the single best predictor of college grades, but they still only account for about 20 percent of the difference between students’ ending up with good or bad college GPAs. The new research focused on outliers: the “thrivers” and “divers” who did much better or much worse in college, respectively, than would be expected based on their high school grades.

One unsurprising correlation the researchers found is a variability in what I would call time management skills. From the abstract:

Students whose first-year college average is far below expectations (divers) have a high propensity for procrastination – they self-report cramming for exams and wait longer before starting assignments…In contrast, students who exceed expectations (thrivers)…are willing to study more hours per week to obtain the higher GPA they expect.

Nothing shocking there, but without reading the paper and following down that rabbit hole, I cannot say whether this really reflects an innate personality trait or a skill set one can practice and learn (or both). The reporting on the study goes on to describe correlating personality traits such as “conscientiousness” that may explain much of this difference, but again, the nature-vs.-nurture question is salient.

But what really baked my noodle later on was this passage:

Cultural differences might also help explain the performance gaps. As part of the study, students were asked to write about themselves and their goals. Thrivers were significantly more likely to use words such as “trustworthy,” “wise” and “helpful” to describe their future selves, while divers were more likely to use words like “tough,” “man” and “rich.” While thrivers dreamed about contributing to society or helping others, divers were more likely to cite wealth or success in business as their goals.

Muy interesante, amigos. No? I suppose a propensity for toxic masculinity and shallow narcissism vs. ethical and well-informed altruism could be described as “cultural differences.” But the conservative/authoritarian vs. leftist/egalitarian distinction jumped right out at me.

I’m just spitballin’ here, but if right-wing political orientation is substantially correlated with an inability to thrive in an academic environment, this might help explain the characteristic conservative/fascist disdain for scientific experts and inteeleckshuls of all stripes. After all, university professors and people who eagerly embrace new wisdom for its own sake are not exactly universally described as “tough,” “man” and “rich,” at least not in the sense those words are used by US conservatives.


  1. says

    When I was on the way out of academe I interviewed with a startup founder who mildly criticized me for not asking about money first. He noted that not asking up front about money seemed pretty common among the academics he knew.

  2. Siobhan says

    There are, however, a number of accredited academics who are quite reactionary in all respects: See, many of the dinosaurs I criticize in gender variance. Not sure the authoritarian/egalitarian divide is clean enough to trust yet. Not that it would stop Christofascists from criminalizing glasses or something.

  3. Menyambal says

    I noticed that in the Honors College of my university, the students split into two categories. There were some who were really good at memorizing formulas and doing homework and misunderstanding new concepts. The others were more inquisitive, much more likely to understand new concepts, and tended to ask insightful questions.

    My focus at the time was on religion versus atheism, and the first group was all Baptists, while the others were all atheist. The religious kids were very, very good at being taught, the atheists were good at learning.

    In the approach of this post, the Baptists were all destined for success as right-wingers (oh, Jesu, the cooperation between religion and politics in conservatives there). The atheists were much more suited for academia as it should be, and for scientific inquiry.

    Yeah, the Baptists seemed to dislike school more, because they’d run up against some thing new or different, and they’d get mad at the prof. The atheists were all wide-eyed and giggly that academia existed, and they were in it. (And then the atheist professors had to deal with conservative administrators who were trying to run a business ….)

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    Both the procrastination and ethical behavior. Letting go of the toxic aspects of masculinity needs to be taught and learned.

  5. says

    First, there is a pirate bay for journal articles which stands a good chance of getting you the article (PB itself is good for reference materials).

    There is an interesting story behind it too.

    Second, on the question of personality/nature involvement I would say it’s a yes, but a yes that needs some data. Anecdotally as a person who goes to ADHD support group meetings we have lots of “crammers”, and parents and grandparents end up getting the diagnosis after the kids a lot of the time. “We” (there are ADD, ADHD, and just H people in there too) seem to be sensation seekers who tend to perform better with strong stimulation (positive or negative). The time crunch ends up being what we need for motivation, though it’s not a universal pattern. ADHD is strongly inherited and even family members that don’t meet the criteria are more like that stereotype than they are the population at large.

    Tourette’s Syndrome and autism have similar patterns in my experience (there seems to be a connection between families with engineers and scientists and autism diagnoses), and I think that this will get into something that can be considered “family personality/temperament”.

    I could say more but my lunch break is over. I think things

  6. Richard Davies says

    My(completely anecdotal) observation as an ex academic who is now sort of in the corporate world is that personal success n the business world derives from being really damn sure of yourself and deriving confidence from that. Academia, imbues one with a sense of nuance and uncertainty which is the very opposite of this corporate bravura.

  7. says

    Also anecdotally virtually my whole family are right-wing types, though the numbers are dropping in my generation and earlier. I have no problem with considering potential connections between these things, and suspect there is something to it. I have a military/fundamentalist background on both sides of the family going back centuries.

    Nurture is still a big part of it (in terms of how the specifics are shaped), but I think that there are things that predispose towards emotional intensity and social and personal rule-based activity (Tourette’s Syndrome related phemonena, maybe fundamentalist related) and a personality that tends towards dynamic, fast-paced and intense environments (ADHD, maybe military related). These would certainly result in people that perform differently on average in the academic environment that exists today. This is something I have hesitated to write about because in many respects I feel tossed out of the academic world like trash due to ADHD complications and I’m not sure how I would want to write about it (but I would not want that prevent any discussion about the general topic).