Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Economics students are extraverted, disagreeable, but emotionally stable

I've written a couple of times about personality differences of students by academic discipline (see here and here). In one of the studies I discussed, students high in extraversion were more likely to choose to study law, or business and economics, and less likely to choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, both posts were based on a single study.

A 2016 systematic review by Anna Vedel (Aarhus University), published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (ungated version here), summarises the results of twelve studies, across seven countries (in Europe, Israel and the U.S.), and including 13,389 students. All studies compared students' Big Five personality traits by discipline, although only four studies separated out economics students (and in one of those, "economics" included marketing, management, accounting, and public administration). Vedel finds that:
Economics and Business scored consistently lower than other groups [for neuroticism]...
Economics, Law, Political Sc., and Medicine scored higher than Arts, Humanities, and Sciences [for extraversion], and the differences often represented medium effect sizes...
Humanities, Arts, Psychology, and Political Sc. scored higher than other academic majors [for openness], and effect sizes were often moderate or even large in comparisons with Economics, Engineering, Law, and Sciences.
Law, Business, and Economics scored consistently lower than other groups [for agreeableness], and a few medium effect sizes were found in comparisons with Medicine, Psychology, Sciences, Arts, and Humanities...
Arts and Humanities scored consistently lower than other academic majors [for conscientiousness], and medium effect sizes were found in comparisons with Sciences, Law, Economics, Engineering, Medicine, and Psychology.
If we take those results as representative (which might not be as big a stretch as it sounds, as the effect sizes were reasonably consistent across studies), then economics students are more extraverted, but less neurotic (alternatively, more emotionally stable) and less agreeable than other students. The big question now is, how do we leverage those traits to improve student outcomes, or to provide better advice to students?

[HT: Marginal Revolution, back in August]

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