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It's all about self-control

A self-controlled child has a greater chance of leading a healthy, wealthy, and law abiding lifestyle as an adult, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from Britain, the United States, and New Zealand studied more than 1,000 New Zealand-born children over a 30 year period, and discovered the extent to which a child uses self-control has more of an impact on their adult lives than intelligence or social status.

“The need to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expression is the earliest and most ubiquitous demand that societies place on their children, and success at many life tasks depends critically on children’s mastery of such self-control,” writes Terrie Moffitt, a professor of social behaviour and development at Duke University and lead author of the study.

“Early childhood intervention that enhances self-control is likely to bring a greater return on investment,” she added.

Throughout the course of the study, researchers relied on the feedback of parents, teachers, and the participants themselves to track instances such as restlessness, acting before thinking, and the lack of persistence in reaching goals.

Moffitt and her team conclude that the children who displayed the least amount of self-control while growing up were three times more likely, when compared to their less impulsive peers, to develop multiple health problems, fall into debt, and engage in criminal activity in adulthood.

For example, by age 32, only 11% of the participants with the highest level of self-control had developed multiple health problems, compared to 27% of those who displayed the least amount of self-control. In terms of income, the study found, only 10% of participants with the highest level of self-control now earn less than NZ $20,000, compared to 32% of those at the lower self-control level during childhood. And, most striking – though perhaps not a surprise, 13% of the participants with the highest level of self-control had been convicted of a crime, compared to 43% of those who displayed the least amount of self-control.

Data also suggests that the participants whose self-control slowly improved during the study had a more favourable quality of life as adults.

To learn more about self-control and ways to foster self-control in children, please see our six-part series on Executive Function.

Original Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences   

1/26/2011
 

Terrie E. Moffitt, Louise Arseneault, Daniel Belsky, Nigel Dickson, Robert J. Hancox, HonaLee Harrington, Renate Houts, Richie Poulton, Brent W. Roberts, Stephen Ross, Malcolm R. Sears, W. Murray Thomson, and Avshalom Caspi. A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jan 2011; doi:10.1073/pnas.1010076108





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