How are conscientiousness and cognitive ability related to one another? A re-examination of the intelligence compensation hypothesis

Aja L. Murray, Wendy Johnson, Matt McGue, William G. Iacono

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18 Scopus citations


Previously, negative associations between intelligence and conscientiousness have been reported and explained in terms of an 'intelligence compensation hypothesis' (ICH) whereby higher conscientiousness develops in order to compensate for lower cognitive ability. We argue that conscientious traits, especially those related to achievement, are just as likely to be reinforced by cognitive ability. We evidence this by showing that previous negative associations may be attributable to a compensatory sample selection effect arising because of the use of research samples comprised of participants with achievement above certain thresholds. The associations between conscientiousness and ability in the samples of adolescents and their parents from the Sibling Interaction and Behaviour Study (SIBS) and Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS) - which were not selected in this way - were either zero or positive. Further, artificially introducing selection on achievement into these samples biased the associations in the negative direction. Together, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that the true association between these constructs may be zero or positive at the population level but that the use of selected research samples has sometimes resulted in the appearance of a negative association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-22
Number of pages6
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Aja Louise Murray was supported by a studentship from The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, ( ), part of the cross council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative (G0700704/84698). Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council , Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council , Economic and Social Science Research Council , and the Medical Research Council is gratefully acknowledged.


  • Cognitive ability
  • Compensatory selection
  • Conscientiousness
  • Intelligence compensation hypothesis
  • Sampling

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