Developmental Stage

Publication Type

Countless studies have addressed why some individuals achieve more than others. Nevertheless, the psychology of achievement lacks a unifying conceptual framework for synthesizing these empirical insights.We propose organizing achievement-related traits by two possible mechanisms of action: Traits that determine the rate at which an individual learns a skill are talent variables and can be distinguished conceptually from traits that determine the effort an individual puts forth. This approach takes inspiration from Newtonian mechanics: achievement is akin to distance traveled, effort to time, skill to speed, and talent to acceleration. A novel prediction from this model is that individual differences in effort (but not talent) influence achievement (but not skill) more substantially over longer (rather than shorter) time intervals. Conceptualizing skill as the multiplicative product of talent and effort, and achievement as the multiplicative product of skill and effort, advances similar, but less formal, propositions by several important earlier thinkers.