Aligning Measurement of Personal Attributes for Predicting STEM Education Outcomes

In a unique multidisciplinary, multinational research effort, the CEHD is investigating how personality traits, executive function, and economic preferences predict academic achievement and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The Center won a National Science Foundation grant to identify the combination of noncognitive skills, traits, and preferences that predict performance in STEM courses from fourth grade through high school. The study will also determine how these personal attributes predict choice of college major and career.

The study will provide a better understanding of age-specific windows of opportunity for interventions promoting STEM achievement and the pursuit of STEM majors. Pinpointing the attributes associated with success in STEM fields will help teachers and school administrators better identify and counsel students with strong STEM potential. By confirming the predictive power of standardized measures of related traits and skills, the findings could also help schools and teachers personalize education and improve student outcomes, and support students in their goals.

Principal investigator, CEHD director James J. Heckman, leads the project with co-principal investigators Stephanie M. Carlson of the University of Minnesota; Thomas J. Dohmen of the University of Bonn; and Patrick. C Kyllonen of the Educational Testing Service. Mathematica willl provide data analysis aspects of the project.

Using a common measurement framework, the study will analyze samples from three sites in the United States and China, as well as data from the Australian Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey.

Research across several fields has identified relationships between personality traits, executive function skills, and enrollment and performance in STEM courses and careers. This study will address important unanswered questions in how these traits are most accurately measured and how they are linked to STEM outcomes.

The grant, which started May 1, 2022, provides just over $1 million for research in the first year, with expected funding up to $2.5 million through 2027.

Additional collaborators contributing to this research project include:

  • Shuaizhang Feng, Jinan University
  • Armin Falk, briq Institute on Behavior and Inequality

An advisory panel of consultants who meet regularly to give feedback on the project’s design and progress. Members include:


Project Team


Project Partners