True Grit – a book, two films, and now... a personality trait

And if you have it, you're likely to achieve more in life

Devotees of the film True Grit may argue over the superiority of John Wayne's Oscar-winning portrayal of Marshal Rooster Cogburn in 1969 or Jeff Bridges' best-actor-nominated effort in 2011, but one thing they agree is that the hallmark of both performances is the bloody-minded determination of the larger-than-life character at the heart of both films.

So tenacious in fact, psychologists suggest that True Grit should be recognised as a distinctive personality trait, which stands apart from the averagedly determined man or woman.

New research suggests that, like Marshal Cogburn (played by John Wayne), people with the true-grit trait have a perseverance and passion for long-term goals, and that they have a different physiological response when faced with challenge and adversity.

"Grit, a recently proposed personality trait associated with persistence for long-range goals, predicts success in part by promoting self-control, thus allowing people to persist in repetitive, tedious or frustrating behaviours that are necessary for success," the researchers say. "People high in grit are more passionate about their goals and more dedicated to accomplishing them, so the importance of success should be higher for gritty people."

According to academic studies gritty adults achieve higher education results, gritty kids spell better and gritty military cadets are more likely to graduate with honours from elite military academies. Researchers in the United States believe it is the reason why among groups of equal intelligence, some people achieve more. They also believe they have a test that can predict grittiness.

The grit test, developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina, uses eight statements designed to test perseverance and consistency. Having identified people with and without grit, researchers then compared nervous system and heart activity in the two groups while they were carrying out mentally challenging tests. The volunteers completed mental tests with electrodes taped to their skin to measure nervous system activity.

People who scored high in grit, especially perseverance, had changes in heart activity during the task that were different to those low in grit. "We found support for an influence of individual differences in grit on effort-related cardiac activity," say the researchers. It implies a more efficient cardiovascular profile when faced with a challenge."