Consistency of Noncognitive skills and their relation to educational outcomes in a UK cohort

Tim T Morris*, George Davey Smith, Gerard J. van den Berg, Neil M Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
60 Downloads (Pure)


Noncognitive skills have been shown to associate with a range of health and socioeconomic outcomes. Many studies have relied on cross sectional data and have been unable to assess the longitudinal consistency of noncognitive skill measures. Using data from a UK cohort, we investigated a range of noncognitive skills: behavioural problems, social skills, communication, self-esteem, persistence, locus of control, empathy, impulsivity and personality. We assessed their consistency over a 17-year period throughout childhood and adolescence (age 6 months to 18 years), their genomic architecture, and their associations with socioeconomic outcomes. We found high longitudinal measurement consistency for behavioural and communication skills but low consistency for other noncognitive skills, suggesting a high noise to signal ratio. We observed consistent non-zero heritability estimates and genetic correlations for only behavioural difficulties. Using aggregate measures of each skill over time we found evidence of phenotypic correlations and heritability (h_SNP^2=0.1 – 0.2) for behaviour, communication, self-esteem and locus of control. Associations between noncognitive skills and educational outcomes were observed for skills measured in mid to late childhood but these were at most a third of the size of IQ-education associations. These results suggest that measures designed to capture noncognitive skills may be subject to considerable response heterogeneity or measurement error. Aggregate measures that leverage repeat responses from longitudinal data may offer researchers more reliable measures that better identify underlying noncognitive skills than cross sectional measures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number563
Number of pages10
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Early online date5 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses. The Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Bristol support the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit [MC_UU_00011/1]. A comprehensive list of grants funding is available on the ALSPAC website (; data used at age 23 was specifically funded by the Wellcome Trust and MRC [102215/2/13/2]. Study data were collected and managed using REDCap electronic data capture tools hosted at the University of Bristol. REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a secure, web-based application designed to support data capture for research studies, providing 1) an intuitive interface for validated data entry; 2) audit trails for tracking data manipulation and export procedures; 3) automated export procedures for seamless data downloads to common statistical packages; and 4) procedures for importing data from external sources. The study website contains details of all the data that is available through a fully searchable data dictionary and variable search tool at alspac/researchers/our-data/. The Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) support NMD via a Future Research Leaders grant [ES/N000757/1] and TTM via a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship [ES/S011021/1]. NMD is supported by a Norwegian Research Council Grant number 295989. The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome (Grant ref: 102215/2/13/2) and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC. This publication is the work of the authors and Tim Morris will serve as guarantors for the contents of this paper. GWAS data was generated by Sample Logistics and Genotyping Facilities at Wellcome Sanger Institute and LabCorp (Laboratory Corporation of America) using support from 23andMe. No funding body has influenced data collection, analysis or its interpretations. This work was carried out using the computational facilities of the Advanced Computing Research Centre - and the Research Data Storage Facility of the University of Bristol -

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Education
  • cognitive
  • socioemotional
  • genetics
  • soft skills


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