Personality Type as a Determinant of Student Performance in Introductory Economics: Macroeconomics vs. Microeconomics*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Personality type has been shown to impact student performance in introductory economics courses. However, research has yet to ascertain the degree to which this relationship might vary across course types. We utilize a one quarter survey course designed to cover the fundamentals of both microeconomics and macroeconomics in order to test the hypothesis that different personality types, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, will excel in the two fields of study. We show that although a casual comparison of estimated coefficients across disciplines may imply differences in the role of type in the two fields, these differences are not supported by formal testing. We, therefore, find little support for the notion that the relationship between personality type and performance is different for the two fields.

INTRODUCTION

Experience has shown that students have no trouble revealing their preferences toward the study of economics. Casual observation has led some to assert that "economics is one of those subjects students either love or hate", as is stated by B org and Shapiro ( 1 996). Another common, yet noteworthy theme centers on the juxtaposition of microeconomics and macroeconomics. It seems that students rarely find the two branches of economics equally desirable, often expressing a strong preference for one over the other. Given that the two fields are significantly different in their topics and methods, it is probable that students are more likely to excel in the field of study that embraces those methods most consistent with their personal preferences. Furthermore, some degree of self-sorting is apparent among professional economists in a manner consistent with the micro/macro distinction. Variation in student preferences and the self-sorting of economists should not be surprising given the nature of the two branches of economics: macroeconomic theory being highly differentiated, fluid, and evolving, whereas microeconomic theory is somewhat more focused and time-invariant. Taken together these observations suggest that differences in taste concerning the two main branches of economics are associated with different personality/learning types.

Students with certain personality types and learning styles may excel in macroeconomics or microeconomics to varying degrees depending upon the match between their personality characteristics and course content and structure. The importance of this to economics students is clear given that, unlike the informed self-sorting of professional economists, students rarely have the ability, or the necessary a priori information, to choose those economics courses that most closely match their preferences. This is especially true in introductory course where students may have no prior knowledge regarding economics, or perhaps are required to take courses in each.

It has been shown in previous work that personality type does indeed affect student performance in introductory economics courses. In fact, two separate studies find such a relationship, Ziegert (2000), and Borg and Shapiro (1996). However, it is not clear whether these two studies are entirely comparable, as the work by Ziegert examines courses in microeconomics, while Borg and Shapiro focus on courses in macroeconomics. Previous research has not addressed whether the personality types predictive of academic performance in one branch of economics are also predictive in the other. The purpose of this study is to determine whether the relationship between personality type and student performance is different for microeconomics relative to macroeconomics. These results will potentially help explain differences found in past work, and gain valuable insights into student learning and appropriate pedagogical approaches in introductory economics courses.

PERSONALITY TYPE AND LEARNING STYLES

The measure of personality type we employ is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, which is designed to classify individuals according to personality types consistent with the work of psychologist C. …