Early Childhood

Study: Moody Toddlers Could End Up as Compulsive Gamblers

By Julie Rasicot — April 30, 2012 2 min read
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Is your 3-year-old overly cranky, impulsive and restless? If the answer is yes, you could be raising a future gambler.

So says a new study published recently in the journal Psychological Science that found a correlation between so-called “under-controlled” temperament in preschoolers and compulsive gambling later in life.

The study’s researchers say their results suggest it may be possible to determine as early as age 3 whether a person is at increased risk of becoming a gambler, according to psychologist Wendy S. Slutske of the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Slutske conducted the study along with Terrie E. Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, both of Duke University in Durham, N.C., and University College/London; and Richie Poulton of the University of Otago, in Dunedin, New Zealand, according to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers followed 939 people who were first assessed as toddlers and then at ages 21 and 32 as part of a New Zealand longitudinal health and development study. They were part of a slightly larger group whose temperaments were assessed for 90 minutes at age 3. The more-restless kids who were also impulsive and unable to control their emotions were tagged as having under-controlled temperaments.

At ages 21 and 32, those 939 were questioned about gambling and 86 percent said they had tried it. The kids with under-controlled temperaments at age 3 were “more than twice as likely” to show signs of compulsive gambling at ages 21 and 32 than were kids who were well-adjusted at age 3, the report said.

Researchers found that among the compulsive gamblers, “under-controlled temperament in toddlerhood remained a significant predictor of disordered gambling in adulthood, even after gender, intelligence, and socioeconomic status were taken into account,” according to the association’s release.

This is one of those studies that can’t help but leave us scratching our heads. How to know, for example, how the study results might apply to a toddler who goes through a couple of tough months, but outgrows self-control issues by age 4—a profile that might fit many maturing preschoolers?

But that’s why the study’s “level of prediction across nearly 30 years is remarkable considering that the classification of the children’s temperaments was based on observing a child for only 90 minutes,” the report notes.

The larger point, according to Slutske, is the importance of teaching self-control in early childhood and its impact on success later in life.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.