Toddler temperament linked to adult gambling-related problems

Children who have trouble controlling their behaviour and emotions at age three are more than twice as likely to have gambling-related problems at ages 21 and 32 than well-adjusted children of the same age.

This is the key finding of New Zealand online research article Under-controlled Temperament at Age 3 Predicts Disordered Gambling at Age 32 : A Longitudinal Study of a Complete Birth Cohort (March 2012).

Researchers use the term ‘under-controlled temperament’ to describe children who have trouble controlling their behaviour and emotions.
Using data from a Dunedin group study, researchers examined whether individual character differences in childhood predicted gambling-related problems in adulthood.

Study participants were members of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, an ongoing longitudinal investigation of the health and behaviour of a group of children born between April 1, 1972 and March 31, 1973, in Dunedin, New Zealand.

A 90 minute observation assessment at age three was used to place children into five character groups:

  • under-controlled (38% girls, 62% boys)
  • inhibited (60% girls, 40% boys),
  • confident (48% girls, 52% boys)
  • reserved (52% girls, 48% boys)
  • well-adjusted (48% girls, 52% boys).

The study focused mainly on mental and physical ability assessments at age three and face-to-face interview assessments about gambling-related problems at ages 21 and 32.

While participants in the aged three under-controlled temperament group were significantly more likely than those in the well-adjusted group to have gambling-related problems as adults, this was not the case for those in the inhibited, confident and reserved groups.

Adult gambling-related problems were significantly linked to an individual’s gender, low intelligence and social and economic standing in childhood.

Participants in the inhibited, confident, and reserved temperament groups were not more likely than those in the well-adjusted group to exhibit gambling-related problems at age 21 or 32.

Study data was available for 1,023 of the children at the age three character assessment, 939 of the group at the age 21 disordered-gambling assessment, and 959 of the group at the age 32 disordered-gambling assessment.

The study provides convincing evidence that childhood under-control does make children vulnerable to adult gambling-related problems and there is a possibility that this vulnerability could be seen in children from three years old.

The research article can be found on Psychological Science, an online journal of the Association for Psychological Science.