Toddler self-control can predict health and wealth
LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Children who have low levels of self-control at three are more likely to have health and money problems and a criminal record by the age of 32, regardless of background and IQ, scientists said on Monday.
Researchers from Britain, the United States and New Zealand analyzed data from two large studies in which children completed a range of physical tests and interviews to assess genetic and environmental factors that can shape their lives.
They found that children with low self-control were more likely to have health problems in later life including high blood pressure, being overweight, breathing problems and sexually transmitted infections.
They were also more likely to be dependent on substances such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs, more likely to be single parents, have difficulty managing money and have criminal records. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
"Mastering self-control and managing impulses are some of the earliest demands that society places on children," said Terrie Moffitt, a professor of social behavior and development at Britain's King's College London and Duke University in the United States, who led the research.
"Our study shows, for the first time, that willpower as a child really does influence your chances of a healthy and wealthy adulthood."
The researchers looked first at data from around 1,000 children born in New Zealand between April 1972 and March 1973.
The participants' self control was assessed by teachers, parents, observers and the children themselves and included things like having low frustration tolerance, lacking persistence in reaching goals, being over-active and acting before thinking.
Moffitt's team then found that when the participants reached their early 30s, this impulsivity and relative inability to think about the long-term gave them more problems with finances, including savings, owning a home and credit card debt.
The children with lower self-control scores also scored highest for things like sexually transmitted diseases, weight problems, having high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
To corroborate the findings, the researchers ran the same analysis on data from 500 pairs of fraternal twins in Britain. They found that the sibling with lower self-control scores at age five was more likely to start smoking, do badly at school and engage in antisocial behavior at age 12.
"This shows that self-control is important by itself, apart from all other factors that siblings share, such as their parents and home life," said Avshalom Capsi, who worked with Moffitt on the study.
Alexis Piquero, a professor of criminology at Florida State University, who was not involved in the research said the good news was self-control skill levels could change, especially if health and social services intervene early.
"Identifying low self-control as early as possible and doing prevention and intervention is so much cheaper" than dealing with prisons, drug programs and personal economic failures, he said in a comment about the findings. "If you're just making a dollars-and-cents decision, it's a no-brainer."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this