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Is your toddler's moody behavior a sign of a future gambling problem?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Negative, moody toddlers might later develop a gambling problem, finds study.

Researchers say there’s a way to know if your toddler will turn into an impulsive gambler in adulthood. Understanding childhood behavior could mean early interventions to help your child grow into a trouble free adult.

Moody preschoolers twice as likely to gamble in adulthood

Psychologists from the University of Missouri studied more than 900 people who were moody, restless, inattentive and oppositional as toddlers. They concluded all of the preceding characteristics during preschool years are predictive of gambling problems in adulthood.

Psychologist Wendy S. Slutske of University of Missouri, who conducted the study with Terrie E. Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, both of Duke University and University College/London; and Richie Poulton of University of Otago, in Dunedin said in a press release, children age 3 who were tested and found to be moody and impulsive were twice as likely to have a gambling problems by age 30.

Slutske also said this study pinpoints that it is possible to tell who will develop a gambling problem by observing temperament and behaviors as such an early age.

The causal link was found when Slutske and her categorized 1037 three year olds as having one of five temperaments. The children’s profiles were taken from the Dunedin (New Zealand) Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

Behaviors were observed during and 90-minute assessment. Temperaments were broken down into under-controlled, inhibited, confident, reserved, or well adjusted.

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Toddlers who were considered under-controlled were less able to control their behaviors and considered moody and restless as well as the impulsive and negative.

At age 21 and again at age 36, 939 of the people in the study were given surveys asking about their gambling behavior.

Even after the researchers adjusted for socioeconomic status, gender and intelligence, under-controlled temperament as a toddler was still found to be a significant predictor of gambling disorder.

Because gambling is a constant temptation, Slutske says the findings are important even though the number of people who end up with the problem is small. He also notes there may be other implications to the finding. “It fits into a larger story about how self-control in early childhood is related to important life outcomes in adulthood,” said Slutske.

She recommends programs that teach children self-control including Sesame Street that teaches children in some of their segments about the importance of saving money and postponing rewards.

Identifying and intervening to encourage behavior changes early in life can mean your preschooler will have a better chance of happiness and financial security as an adult. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found toddlers who are more moody, restless, inattentive and negative than other children their age are twice as likely to develop a gambling problem decades later.

Association for Psychological Science
April 23, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile