When asked to think of someone really ‘gritty’, an image of US marshal Rooster Cogburn in the film ‘True Grit’ may spring to mind.
Throughout the story, Cogburn demonstrates an unwavering determination to catch the criminals and fugitives he pursues, and protect 14-year-old Mattie, who has hired him to track down her father’s killer.
Now a new study has found that the brains of ‘gritty’ people like Cogburn work differently to those who are less perseverant towards their goals.
It found that people who are more determined to achieve their long-term goals find it easier to consider all available information while remaining sensitive to new conflicting information.
This may help them be more aware of the presence of conflicting goals in their everyday life that could take them off-track from their longer term ones.
Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain also found that superior intelligence is not necessarily a characteristic of gritty people.
The authors said: ‘To crown the top of the mountain you do not need very good executive functions. You should be aware of the environment instead.’
The phrase ‘true grit’ was popularised by the novel-turned-movie of the same name.
The original 1969 film starred John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn – played by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 remake.
The character was hired by Mattie Ross, played by Kim Darby (1969) and Hailee Steinfeld (2010), to find her father’s killer after she heard about his legendary grit.
A person with grit is someone who displays perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals, even in the face of setbacks.
It is typically measured with an evaluation tool known as the Grit Scale, that study participants are placed on based on answering a series of questions.
The researchers claim this is the first study directly examining the relationship between grit strength and cognitive functioning.
Dr Nuria Aguerre had 134 study participants complete questionnaires, including the Grit Scale, to evaluate their personalities according to three traits: grit, impulsiveness, and mindfulness.
The participants also completed four experimental computer-based tasks to measure different facets of cognitive ability.
These included the ability to switch between different concepts and replace irrelevant items in the working memory with newer items.
Statistical analysis of this data, published in PLOS ONE, revealed that people with higher grit scores did not necessarily score higher on overall cognitive ability.
However, they did find that grit was statistically linked to the personality traits of low impulsivity and high mindfulness, which are both related to self-regulation.
The researchers also found that participants high in grit did show different patterns of cognitive performance.
They proposed there is a link between them, rather than cognitive ability, and characterised the unique cognitive pattern as showing ‘cautious control’.
Those who show ‘grit’ are able to remain sensitive to newer, conflicting information, while still paying attention to all information that is available.
This could help them to be more aware of the presence of conflicting projects in their everyday life that may deter them from their longer term goal.
They also do not get distracted by older information, like prior setbacks, which could contribute to their ability to focus.
Future research could look at a more comprehensive measure of grit and consider fluid intelligence – the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems.