Three-year-olds with poor self-control are “more likely to have health and money problems and a criminal record by the age of 32, regardless of background and IQ,” according to research conducted in New Zealand and Britain. From Reuters:
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 study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
In the New Zealand study, teachers, parents, observers and the children themselves assessed their ability to tolerate frustration, persist in reaching goals and think before acting.
Researchers also looked 500 pairs of five-year-old 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.
Children can learn self-control skills, said Alexis Piquero, a Florida State criminology professor who was not part of the research team. “Identifying low self-control as early as possible and doing prevention and intervention is so much cheaper” than dealing with the problems as impulsive children grow up.
This sounds like another version of the Stanford marshmallow experiment: Preschoolers who are able to delay gratification did much better in school and in life than the marshmallow grabbers.