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Foresight and Self-Control

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Young Children’s Self-control: Foreseeing Health and Wealth

Policy-makers are considering large-scale early intervention programs to enhance children’s self-control, with the aim of reducing crime and improving citizens’ health and wealth. Experimental studies and economic analyses are suggesting that such programs could reap benefits for a nation. Yet, how important is childhood self-control for the health, wealth, and public safety of the adult population? Following a population-representative cohort of 1000 New Zealand children from their birth in 1972 to age 38 in 2011, we show that childhood self-control predicts criminal offending, addiction, personal finances, benefit use, savings for retirement, and also physical health and illness diagnosed via biomarkers. These effects of the children’s self-control could be disentangled from their intelligence and their parents’ social-class. In another cohort of 500 UK twin-sibling-pairs, the sibling with better self-control at age 5 had better life outcomes than his twin sibling with weaker self-control, despite sharing the same parents and family background. These predictions from childhood followed a gradient of self-control, suggesting a nation’s health and wealth could be improved by enhancing self-control in all of its children. Early interventions enhancing the population’s self-control skills might reduce taxpayer costs of crime control, health care, and old-age dependency.


TERRIE E . MOFFITT studies how genetic and environmental risks work together to shape the developmental course of abnormal human behaviors and psychiatric disorders. Her particular interest is in antisocial and criminal behavior, but she also studies depression, psychosis, and substance abuse. She is associate director of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which follows 1000 people born in 1972 in New Zealand from birth to age 38, so far. She also co-directs the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which follows1100 British families with twins born in 1994-1995 from birth to age 18, so far. On behalf of these studies, she has received the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Contribution Award (1993), the Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award (2002), the Stockholm Prize in Criminology (2007), the NARSAD Ruane Prize (2010) and the Klaus J. Jacobs Prize (2010). She is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the American Society of Criminology, the British Academy, Academia Europaea, the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the Association for Psychological Science, and King’s College London. She is a trustee of the Nuffield Foundation. She works at Duke University, in North Carolina in the USA , at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London in the UK, and at the Dunedin School of Medicine, in New Zealand. Her favorite activities are camping and hiking trips in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, and working on her poison-ivy farm in North Carolina. Learn more at this website: WWW .MOFFITTCASPI.COM

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