Why self-control matters. 8 simple ways to help preschoolers develop self-control: (Strategies developed in response to “The Dunedin Study” findings), by Nicola Nation

stocksnap_197p3yu196Preschoolers with good self-control have a better chance of growing up to become healthy, wealthy and crime-free. Here are 8 simple ways teachers can improve children’s self-control – and make classrooms more harmonious.

You may have heard of the well known marshmallow test – the Stanford University experiment that discovered young children who could show restraint in the face of temptation tended to do better in school and, later, in life.

Now a pioneering long-term study has confirmed that self-control is a key to future success.

The study, which has followed the lives of every child born in the New Zealand city of Dunedin in 1972-73, found that children with more self-discipline are more likely to be healthier and wealthier as adults, and less likely to be involved in crime.

“Our 40-year study of 1,000 children revealed that childhood self-control strongly predicts adult success, in people of high or low intelligence, in rich or poor.”

The good news is that even small improvements in self-control can make a big difference to adult outcomes. And the best time to make those improvements? When children are at preschool.

Poor self control can lead to unhappy outcomes

Poor self control can lead to unhappy outcomes

Professor Terrie Moffitt, part of an international team of researchers who analysed the findings of the Dunedin study, says children who had low self-control when tested at the age of three were more likely as adults to have:

  • health problems
  • addictions
  • financial problems
  • trouble managing their money
  • a criminal record.

Signs to watch for:

Problems for children with poor self-control started to show when they were teens. Many started smoking early, had an unplanned baby and left school with no qualifications.

However, Professor Moffitt says children whose self-control improved over time tended to have better lives as adults than initially predicted.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://blog.geteduca.com/home/why-self-control-is-all-that-matters-teaching-children-self-control

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The Dunedin Study: The Vital Importance of “Self Control” in creating Positive Life Outcomes, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Boy hugging toy, looking at bowl of marshmallowsgetty creative easy access

Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”…

Among the most important and hopeful findings of The Dunedin Study is that there is something unfixed, something we can teach any child, regardless of their personality type, which will increase their future health, wealth and happiness.  This important something is the quality of self control.

The measure of self control a child possesses has, through the findings of The Dunedin Studyand others, been shown to be a more important factor in predicting individual positive life outcomes than intelligence or IQ.

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Professor Belsky

“Are you in command of yourself or does your self control you?” asks Professor Jay Belsky, Professor of Human Development at the University of California, Davis.  “Lots of people will say, ‘I didn’t choose to explode, it just happened.’  However, we now know that self control measured at age three forecasts whether a person will be married/ in a stable relationship, whether they will have a good or bad job history and even whether they will have good or bad health in adulthood.”

The good new is that, unlike personality  (which is fairly fixed), self control is variable, as it is a quality we learn.  Following from this, self control can be developed in any child.

Self Control is not fixed and can be developed in anyone.

The classic psychological “self control” test is what has become known as “The Marshmallow Test”.  Young children are left alone in a room with a marshmallow on a plate in front of them.  If they manage not to eat the marshmallow before an adult returns, they are given a second marshmallow.  They are told clearly in advance that the reward for controlling their natural impulse to eat the first marshmallow will be to obtain a second one. The children were filmed while alone with the marshmallow.  Children who showed the most self control during these experiments used self distraction to avoid eating the marshmallow.

“Kids who have the ability to distract themselves in this way are those who have had early, clear boundaries put in place,” Professor Belsky says.  “By age three or four they know that if they are told not do do something, the best method of avoiding it is not to hang around it and to find something else to do.”  Children’s methods of avoiding the marshmallow (and controlling their impulses) vary: some sing, crawl under the table, put their heads down or shut or avert their eyes.  When put in pairs, children encouraged (or discouraged) self control in one another. (A video clip of children participating in “The Marshmallow Test”, from YouTube is below).

The results of The Dunedin Studyshow that in almost every measure of success, self control made a huge difference.  Moreover, participants who displayed low levels of self control during childhood presented with a raft of physical problems later on in life. These health issues included such things as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, gum disease and sexually transmitted diseases.  “Low self-control” children were also more likely to grow up addicted to tobacco, alcohol or drugs. All these represent an expensive cost to the individual, their community and society.

Self Control: a more important factor in predicting individual positive life outcomes than intelligence or IQ.

How, then, can self control be improved and developed in our children?  The best control measure in the The Dunedin Studycame when comparing children who were identified at age three as having an “Undercontrolled” personality (10% of participants) with one another.  Those who had firm, consistent and sensitive parenting with structure and routine developed self control habits which over-rode their “Undercontrolled” personality types.  “Enforced Norms”, such as those created in Early Childhood Education Centres, were also shown to be of benefit in helping children regulate their own behaviour and create their own  boundaries.  Furthermore, it was shown that intervention and work on developing self control at any age (even during adulthood) was beneficial.

As with other areas, however, The Dunedin Studyfindings showed that the greatest benefits were achieved the younger the age at which children learned these skills.

Professor Heckman

Professor Heckman

Professor James Heckman is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and an expert in the economics of human development.  Heckman and his team have been using results from The Dunedin Study“ in the USA, advising the presidency to prioritize the teaching of Self Control in schools.  Professor Heckman believes this will result in huge, long term benefits to the US economy, as well as immense savings.

Once again, then, findings from The Dunedin Studyoffer hope and encouragement.  Nature at age three, thirty three or fifty three does not vary greatly.  However Nurture plays and enormous part in determining whether or not a young child has positive life outcomes as an adult.  Role modelling and teaching the vitally important quality of “Self Control”, as well as parenting consistently, with regular routines and boundaries, gives young children, particularly those with Undercontrolled or  Inhibited personality types, the best chance at becoming well-adjusted adults who are able to cope with what life throws their way.  The overall message then: with the right methods and resources at our disposal we can make a difference in the life trajectory of any child… something we can all feel positive about.

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The Dunedin Study: Early Indicators of Future Physical Health, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

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Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

“Why do some people develop phobias and cancers, while others lead a healthy existence?  Why do some children grow up to be successful entrepreneurs or Nobel Prize Winners, while others become drug addicts and down and outs?  Are these things settled at birth, or is it a result of our childhood experiences?  This question has fascinated philosophers and scientists for thousands of years.”  — Opening lines of “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” TV Programme.

The Dunedin Study findings are that diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality are all greater in number among children raised in poverty.  Dental issues, infectious diseases and meningitis are also more prevalent among these children.  Children raised in poverty are 3-5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital than children who are not from poor backgrounds.

Follow up studies confirm Dunedin Study findings: the overall life expectancy of children growing up in poverty is lower.   For those raised in South Auckland, the lower socioeconomic region of Auckland City New Zealand, life expectancy was shown to be seven years less than that of children raised in any other part of Auckland.  A similar study in Bayview, the poorer area of San Francisco in the USA, showed that children raised there had a life expectancy eleven years lower than those living in other parts of the city.

http://abc7news.com/place/bayview-hunters-point/

Street in Bayview, San Francisco. Source: http://abc7news.com/place/bayview-hunters-point/

For many years it has been known that there is an obvious link between child poverty and higher levels of ill health.  Due to the precise nature of the information obtained and the 95% retention rate of participants, The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has shown this link even more clearly.  Not only do children in poverty suffer from health issues at a greater rate than their peers who do not live in poverty, but the ill health suffered by these children has lifelong effects.  This is true even for those who spent their early years in poverty but ceased, for whatever reason, to be poor in their adult years.

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Growing up in poverty has “lingering effects” on physical health, according to “Dunedin Study” findings.    This is a new and very radical finding.  Children growing up in poverty are subject to stresses which, over time, create inflammation in their blood, study findings show.  Blood tests showed that study members who grew up in poverty and/ or those who were abused or neglected as children had the highest levels of inflammation.  Chronic inflammation permanently “weakens” health, leaving these individuals much more susceptible to diseases related to this inflammation.  In effect this means childhood stress can set up a lifetime of poor health.  Even for those who grew up in poverty, but become wealthy in adulthood, the physical effects of growing up poor can’t be changed.

japanese-saying

The disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor is an increasing issue in developed countries.  The “Dunedin Longitudinal Study” has discovered then, that aside from effects such as economic disadvantage (including educational disadvantage) and a higher risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, long term physical health is compromised by poverty– whether or not the individual in question remains poor into adulthood.  Once again the importance of society investing in people’s early years is shown– we now have a scientific reason to invest in our children, it is more than just “a nice thing to do”.   Our childhood year are truly our “Forever Years”, emotionally and physically.

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The Dunedin Study: TV Use/ Screen time and other “habits”: Effects on Kids in later years, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

13 FY

Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

Every generation identifies “bad habits” in their children which they believe should be “discouraged” because of the negative effects they may cause later in life.  The Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which closely follows 1000 or so participants born in 1972-1973 in Dunedin New Zealand, has identified a number of these “habits” and then gone on to observe how far these do in fact effect people’s lives once they are adults.  The following is a summary of some of the study’s findings.

Cesarian Birth     No lasting effects.     Zero psychological significance.

article-2418967-1BC82B46000005DC-621_634x401Being left handed     No lasting effects… unless forced to write with right hand, which can cause frustration and therefore delay learning.

Bed wetting  No lasting effects.  Zero psychological significance, although other issues may be linked to this if it continues much after age 8 years.  Otherwise is a passing phase.

Age of Toilet Training   Not relevant to future psychological well-being, although other issues may be linked if toilet training has not occured by 5-6 years.

downloadThumb Sucking     A security/ self-nurturing response.  No other particular reason identified.  Usually a passing phase, few “thumb suckers” continue to do this into adulthood.  Has debatable impact on teeth… “if you don’t stop sucking your thumb, we’ll have to get braces on your teeth.”  Orthadontal need tends to be based on genetic predisposition to a particular jaw shape or “bucked teeth” going into adolescence, rather than being related to “thumb sucking”.

download (1)Amount of Sleep during Childhood     The Dunedin Study measured the amount of sleep per night  in participants when they were aged between 5 and 11 years old.  It was discovered that there was a direct correlation between the hours of sleep a child had at these ages and their body weight as an adult.  Those who had the least sleep as children tended to become the most over weight adults.  The reason for this is that sleep influences hormones which effect how hungry you become and when you feel full.  Toddlers who slept less also tended to have problems with cognitive functioning during adolescence and anxiety issues during their 20s.

13TV Watching/ Screen Time    The Dunedin Study also measured how many hours of TV children watched.  This also translates into general “screen time”.   This was the generation who began having personal computers and computer games in their home during the 1980s, when such brands as ZX81 and Commodore 64 became available and games such as “Pac Man” and “Space Invaders” were the rage.  Even those who did not have computers at home frequently had access to them via schools or to games in the “Video Arcades” which were popular in the 80s.  As well as this, the invention of VHS meant that hours spent JS44834649watching television increased dramatically… programmes could be taped and re-watched and the age of video rental shops had begun.  The results are dramatic.  The study showed that those who had more screen time were three times more likely to leave school early, regardless of their IQ or their family’s income.  This may also be because excessive screen time has been linked to self control, a majorly important component in predicting future life trajectory, (which we will examine in greater detail in a later article) and which is the case regardless of intelligence.c89c6ce15b18ce07443424fd290cb8f5

Conclusions drawn from this for those of us wishing to guide our children towards a more positive life trajectory?  1) Don’t be pushy about toilet training, most kids are toilet trained before they start school (boys tend to take a little longer than girls).  2)  Don’t make a big deal of bed wetting or thumb sucking.  3) Don’t force a child who is left handed to use their right hand.  4) Ensure your child has adequate sleep and investigate any obvious sleep issues early 5) Limit screen time… discussing and creating a “contract” with your child about this can be good and also encourages a degree of self-regulation.

“…the thing which is special about The Dunedin Study is that we have measured multiple aspects of human health and development, so we get a complete picture of people’s lives.” —-Professor Richie Poulton, study director.

The comprehensive nature of The Dunedin Longitudinal Study as well as the high rate of retention of participants (only 35% of participants still live in Dunedin, but 95% remain in the study and return regularly to participate), gives weight to the findings listed above, as well as strategies for reducing negative outcomes and increasing the chances of a positive life trajectory, through early intervention, for the children of today.

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“The Dunedin Study”: Early Indicators of Schizophrenia, by Kirsteen Mclay-Knopp

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Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

The Dunedin Study’s findings on predictability early in childhood of a later onset of schizophrenia, are revolutionary… and potentially life changing.  Before we continue, however, here is a description of the mental health condition known as “schizophrenia”:

When a person has schizophrenia they go through patches where it is hard to think clearly, manage their emotions, distinguish what is real and what is not, and relate to others.  They may have times when they lose contact with reality. This can all be very frightening.  Schizophrenia most often begins between the ages of 15 and 30 years, occurring for the first time slightly earlier in men than in women. Schizophrenia happens in approximately the same numbers across all ethnic groups. The onset of schizophrenia can be quite quick. Someone who has previously been healthy and coped well with their usual activities and relationships can develop psychosis (loss of contact with reality) over a number of weeks. That said, symptoms may also develop slowly, with the ability to function in everyday life declining over a number of years.  The course of schizophrenia is very variable.  Everyone experiences it differently and most will make a reasonable recovery, going on to lead a fulfilling life. About one third of people experiencing schizophrenia will have ongoing problems, perhaps with continuing symptoms such as hearing voices.   [Source:  Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand].

This illness is serious then, both in its effects on the individuals with schizophrenia and on those who live with them.   The Dunedin Longitudinal Study asked participants whether they had ever heard voices or seen things which were not there.  The participants, born in 1972-1973, were asked this question at the age of 11 years.  Twenty-five years later, it was discovered that, of those participants who said they had heard voices or seen things which were not there, half had then gone on to develop schizophrenia.  Prior to this study, children had never been asked about such things.  There had never, previously, been any measured indicator of schizophrenia in children and it was assumed that it was an “adult disease” (beginning somewhere between the ages of 15 and 30 years, as indicated in our definition, above).   This is a major breakthrough, as it means we are now able to identify children at risk of developing schizophrenia and intervene with help for those who need it earlier, before their whole lives are affected.

50

Following on from this, The Dunedin Study hopes to identify why 50% of children with “indicators” did not then go on to develop schizophrenia… and whether there might be a “nurture” component which makes individuals with indicators more vulnerable.  Many children have “imaginary friends” and play elaborate, imaginary games which seem almost “real” in their developing minds.  As well as this, we have the influence of social media, movies and television.  However, the difference between imaginative play versus “hearing voices” and “seeing things” which are not there is a concern when these are early indicators of schizophrenia in 50% of those who experience them.

Participants found to have a shorter version than normal of the 5HTT Seratonin Transporter gene had a higher incidence of clinical depression and attempted suicide.  (There have even been arguments made that this should be a marker when making decisions such as whether or not a child should be removed from a damaging home situation).  With regards to schizophrenia, it was discovered that those with this shorter than normal 5HTT were more likely to present with the disease as adults if they used cannabis.  (This was also dependent on how young participants were when they began using cannabis and how long their use was continued… younger use and higher rates of use dramatically increases chances of schizophrenia, when participants also had the 5HTT gene).

5HTT

Another test done by The Dunedin Study on participants at age 38, found that adults who had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia had wider venules (very small veins) at the back of their eyes than those who had not been.  The only other group with wider than normal eye venules were those participants who had high blood pressure.  This has led to the understanding that “blood flow” is an accurate measure of schizophrenia– not only blood flow in the eye venules, but also general blood flow all over the brain.  This lends itself to the question of whether the difference in blood flow (between those who have and those who do not have schizophrenia is a “cause or effect” of the disease.  Current research would tend to suggest it is causal.

In the USA alone, about $50 million is spent annually on support for those with schizophrenia.  If the vascular (blood flow) theory is correct, the next step would be to develop possible ‘treatments’ or preventative measures from early on in life (reacting to indicators in children).  One possible treatment would involve oxygen supplementation for children identified as having wider venules at the back of their eyes, plus indicators (hearing voices, seeing things which aren’t there).

As an interesting side finding, participants in The Dunedin Study who were found, at age 38, to have wider venules at the back of their eyes also tended to have a lower IQ as children.  This implies that prevention of wider venules in those deemed at risk could also help alleviate a range of other related and currently untreatable issues.   As in the case of those children who presented as being at risk of schizophrenia, prevention would result in a positive shift in life trajectory.

The more we look at the findings of The Dunedin Longitudinal Study, then, the more we see possibilities for the positive altering of life trajectories, if intervention occurs early.  We at The Forever Years feel excited by the future potential for a positive way forward and the sculpting of optimal life trajectories that this offers for all our children everywhere.  Aside from anything else, study findings show that “The Forever Years” (childhood) really are years which affect us for the rest of our lives not only mentally, but also physically.  The more systems are put in place to monitor our children and react to indicators of future issues at an early stage, the greater the chance we have for positive change.

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“The Dunedin Study”: Early Indicators/ Risk Factors of Criminality in Our Children… and what we can do about it, By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

jal collage

Continuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”

Our previous article about “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” focused on the five personality types identified by the study: “Well Adjusted”, “Confident”,”Reserved”, “Undercontrolled” and “Inhibited”.  These are divided among the population as shown in the pie chart below (with some overlaps).

Pie 2

As discussed, study findings were that these personality types were fixed and could be identified in very young children.  Of the five types, “Undercontrolled” (10%) and “Inhibited” (7% of the total population) were the two conducive to what was called a “negative life outcome”, that is causing great angst, anxiety and unhappiness to both those with the personality type and to those around them.

“Inhibited”individuals tend to be overcome by shyness and social awkwardness to the point where they “hide from the world” and frequently struggle to complete High School, gain tertiary qualifications, maintain jobs or enter into (let alone maintain) relationships.  In general, “Inhibited”individuals are not, however, a “threat to society” and their personality trait, while harmful to themselves and concerning for those who love them, is not “dangerous”.

David Gray

David Gray

We say “in general”, because there are cases of such individuals “coming out of their shells” (as they are frequently hermits or recluses) and becoming violent, such as in the case of David Gray, who killed 13 people in the well-known Aramoana Massacre near Dunedin, New Zealand in 1990.

This article focuses on the 10% of the population classified as “Undercontrolled”, because these individuals have been shown to have the greatest tendency towards life outcomes which present not only  as negative for themselves, but frequently as criminal and violent.

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Nature vs Nurture

Before going on to look at the “Undercontrolled” group in more detail, however, we at “The Forever Years” would also like to re-emphasise that, while the personality types are fixed, according to “The Dunedin Study”, whether or not those young children who present as”Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited”manifest a “negative life outcome” is hugely dependent on nurture (and we will discuss the nurturing of “Undercontrolled” children, in particular, in more detail below) as well as on “Self Control” (which is itself unfixed and can be strengthened with nurture, and which we will discuss in a later article).  Nature loads the gun, but nurture decides whether or not the trigger is pulled.

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A homeless man

Study Director Professor Richie Poulton says that one of the biggest reasons for the credibility of “The Dunedin Study” findings (and part of the reason it is now an internationally recognised “gold standard” in human development), is that for more than 40 years 96% of the original participants (all born in 1972-3 in Dunedin, New Zealand) have remained involved.  Poulton says that these people range across all social strata, from top government employees and professionals through to the homeless, incarcerated, or those in institutional care.

downloadStudy findings showed that children identified as being in the “Undercontrolled” group for personality were frequently in trouble with the law by the time they reached their teenage years.  A pattern of criminality continued, often accelerating until they ended up being incarcerated for long periods of time, for more serious crimes, at some point before their thirties.  Five percent of individuals, the study discovered, were responsible for 50% of society’s crimes.  These individuals were also, mostly, males– as was identified when they were three years old.

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Map showing the location of Pittsburgh in the USA

Because of concerns expressed that these may be “Dunedin only” statistics and that they perhaps applied only to this particular group of people born in the early 1970s, Dr. Terrie Moffat, Associate Director of “The Dunedin Study”, decided to do the experiment with boys growing up in inner-city Pittsburgh, in the USA.  These young men were living  thousands of miles away from New Zealand, were born in a different era and were of a different ethnic makeup (half of the Pittsburgh participants were African American). Findings in the Pittsburgh study were, however, always exactly parallel to those in “The Dunedin Study”: 50% of crimes were perpetrated by 5% of males and the most delinquent boys came from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds.  These findings demonstrate that there are fundamental truths (personality type, social background… nature plus nurture, if you like) driving all human behaviour, regardless of nationality or ethnic background.

Lower socioeconomic area in urban Pittsburgh

Lower socioeconomic area in urban Pittsburgh (Source: Google images)

There only differences between “The Dunedin Study” and the Pittsburgh study were in homicide and suicide.  While assault rates tended to be identical in both cities, homicide rates were higher in Pittsburgh.  This followed through from the easier access to lethal weapons for youth in the USA, which converted what would otherwise have been assaults into homicides.  The youth suicide rate was shown to be higher in Dunedin, which researchers believe may be due to a down turn in the New Zealand economy at the time when study members were leaving school and seeking out employment.  Overall, a comparison of the studies undertaken in Dunedin and Pittsburgh, as well as other similar studies of youth in various developed nations around the globe, indicates that concerns about “The Dunedin Study” findings not being relevant elsewhere can now be conclusively ruled out.  These findings, moreover, led to “The Dunedin Study” being awarded the Stockholm Prize for research into criminality  in 2007 and the Jacob Prize for groundbreaking research into youth offending in 2010.

When thinking in particular about children who present with the “Undercontrolled” personality type then, what practical measures will best help in improving possible “life outcomes”?  Some of these are summarised below:

  •  “Early intervention” (meaning protection from abuse or neglect) for identified vulnerable children.  Children with a  personality type identified as being “Undercontrolled” who are were also victims of abuse or neglect were highly likely to become involved in criminal behaviour as teenagers or adults, according to study findings.  The earlier the intervention the better.
  •  Support for those identified as “Undercontrolled” in personality type, as well as for their parents, carers and educators.  This would involve setting boundaries and developing the all-important quality of Self Control, which unlike personality type, is not fixed.  We will discuss the importance of Self Control in a later article.
  • Kids doing Karate (Source: Google images).

    Kids doing Karate (Source: Google images).

    Practical “outlets” for “Undercontrolled” children to develop self-discipline and self-regulation skills… particularly in “Undercontrolled” males, sports and / or martial arts were shown to be helpful.

  • Socialisation goals and monitoring for depression in “Inhibited” children, who tend to “retreat into themselves” during their teens if not adequately supported.  Socialisation goals can include “challenges” such as camping trips, overseas experiences for teens and group activities, whilst balancing this with a respect for the reserved nature of these children, but hopefully resulting in them developing into “Reserved” rather than “Inhibited” individuals, in terms of personality type.

    Kids camping.  Source: Google images.

    Kids camping. Source: Google images.

  • Investment by governments in Early Childhood Education in particular, but also in education at all levels.
  • A raising of awareness among parents, carers and educators of the different personality types and how each type is best nurtured, especially the “at risk” personality types (“Undercontrolled” and “Inhibited” ).  This would include emphasising the importance of structure, routine and predictability for the “at risk” group of children, who tend not to thrive when circumstances are changeable or random.

Professor James Heckman, at the Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD) at the University of Chicago says, “if we understand what makes people ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’, then we have a powerful new tool for tackling major social issues.”  Heckman says that in areas such as criminology, health and education problems have traditionally been treated “as they appear”, but now we can identify “at risk” individuals very early on… and hopefully apply study findings into real life applications which will alter these life trajectories… and, in doing so, also be immensely beneficial not only to these individuals, but also to society as a whole.

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Dunedin Study Findings: The Importance of Identifying Personality Types at a Young Age, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

16f7mbContinuing  our series of articles on findings discovered by the “Dunedin Longitudinal Study”…

The Dunedin Study identifies five major personality types.  These can be recognised in children as young as three years of age and do not change as we grow older: they are the personality types we are born with, they seem to be “in our blood”.

Pie 2

Most people fall into the groups classified as “Well Adjusted”, “Confident”,”Reserved” or some combination of these three: together these three groups cover 83% of the population.  “Well Adjusted” individuals tend to fit in with their surroundings, sometimes being “in the lime light”, but not having to all the time.  They tend to be able to “get along” with others, for the most part.  “Confident” individuals are the risk takers and “go getters”.  Like those described as “Well Adjusted” they don’t necessarily always have to be in the limelight, but they are thrill seekers and will “go out on a limb” to try a new idea.  An example used in the documantary about “The Dunedin Study” findings, “Why Am I?” was New Zealand’s A.J Hackett, founder of “Bungy Jumping”.

aj-hackett-parkdownload (1)Alan John “A. J.” Hackett is a New Zealand entrepreneur who popularised the extreme sport of bungy jumping. He made the famous bungy jump from the Eiffel Tower in 1987 and founded the first commercial bungy site in 1988. Wikipedia

Those classified as “Reserved” make up 15% of the general population. Reserved individuals tend to “hang back” and watch things for a bit first, before getting involved.  They are often a little shy and are more comfortable in smaller groups. These traits do not, however, prevent them living full and productive lives.

According to “The Dunedin Study” monitoring of 1037 people born in 1972-3, “Well Adjusted”, “Confident” and “Reseved” individuals, 83% of the population, usually go on to have “successful life outcomes”.  By their 40s they are usually happily married or in positive relationships, are persuing careers and/ or parenting well.  The remaining 17% consists of two personality types (again, identifiable in early childhood) which go on to adult lives which create immense angst and unhappiness–  both for themselves and for the rest of the community.

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Source: Google images.

People with a personality type described in “The Dunedin Study” as “Undercontrolled” are usually highly strung and don’t cope well with novelty or change.  These individuals are usually quick to anger and struggle with self control.  (Self control was discovered by “The Dunedin Study” to be one of the biggest indicators of a successful life outcome, a characteristic which was even more important than a high IQ).  Children identified as being in the “Undercontrolled” personality group at age three were more likely to go on become adults with diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease and lung problems.

Group Of Threatening Teenagers Hanging Out Together Outside Drinking

Source: Google images.

These same adults, despite disliking change or novelty, were described as “impulsive” and “sensation seekers”.  They were more likely to drink, take drugs and/ or have sex at an early age and to manifest other behaviour which takes a toll on physical and emotional well-being over time.  Children identified as being in this category at age three were highly likely to have been in serious trouble with the law by the time they were 23.

The other 7% of the population have personalities classified, according to “The Dunedin Study” as being “Inhibited”.  These individuals do not usually commit crimes or become violent.  They seem, instead, to “turn inward on themselves” and what may initially manifest as shyness or social awkwardness in a pre-school child becomes extreme self-consciousness to the point where, in many cases, teenagers manifest “school refusal” ( a refusal to go to school which differs from truancy, in that it is an anxious/ depressive reaction to school, rather than a rebellious act against going to school).  Teaching in High Schools in Japan for five years, I saw a number of examples of this, the Japanese call it Hikikomori.

Hikikomori (ひきこもり or 引き籠もり Hikikomori, literally “pulling inward, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal“,  is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. The term hikikomori refers to both the sociological phenomenon in general and to the people belonging to this societal group. Hikikomori have been described as recluses, loners, or “modern-day hermits.”  [Source: Wikipedia].

An example of a young Japanese man living this kind of life is shown in “Why Am I?” People in this personality group have a difficult time attending school during the High School years and frequently struggle to leave home and establish a life for themselves in the adult world.  They tend to be fearful, anxious, highly strung, closed to change or novelty and prone to depression.  Whilst “hikikomori” is a Japanese term to describe teenagers or young adults who behave in this way, it is now a recognised problem in developed countries around the globe.

shy-teen-girl-200x300What is remarkable is that “The Dunedin Study” first identified these five personality types in pre-school children. These types appear to be set and have persisted in study participants, even becoming more pronounced, into adulthood.  This is, as the study says, one thing for those in the three “normal” groups, but what do we do if a child is identified as being in the “at risk” groups (“Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited”)?

download (2)What this study does establish are theoretically meaningful connections between 3-year-old children’s behavioral styles and their adult personalities. There is more to establishing this answer than satisfying intellectual curiosity. If early-emerging behavioral differences did not predict outcomes, behavioral scientists, parents, and teachers could safely ignore such individual differences. However, because such differences do shape the course of development, information about these individual differences can be harnessed to design parent-training programs and school-based interventions to improve children’s development. Ironically, although demonstrations of continuity are often viewed as deterministic and pessimistic, such findings provide the strongest support for the urgency of early intervention. [Source: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.576.9452&rep=rep1&type=pdf]

The most important thing to remember about “The Dunedin Study” and the reason we here at “The Forever Years” love it, is that it investigates nurture as well as nature and results show that nurture has an important part to play in whether those children with “Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited” personality types go on to have “positive life outcomes” or not.  Personality traits can overlap.   Nurture can “push” children from “functional” to “non-functional” personality types and vice versa. For example, a “Reserved” child who isn’t adequately socialised could become “Inhibited”.  An “Inhibited” child, with the right supports in place, can be “drawn out” to become “Reserved”.

Findings from “The Dunedin Study” show conclusively that for some individuals, multiple problems tend to aggregate.  A portion of children on the study who manifested the “Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited” personality types had these in combination with delays in significant areas such as speech and language acquisition and in taking their first steps.  For a portion of them (interestingly, these children were predominantly male) learning to read was also a great struggle.  This in turn led to a dislike of school, leaving school early and, following on from this, a high incidence of involvement in criminal activity.  “Something as innocent as delayed speech then, if not dealt with early, can gather force over the course of a lifetime,” says “The Dunedin Study” Associate Director,  Dr. Terrie Moffit.

Director Professor Richie Poulton says knowing now (because of study results) that some kids have a much higher chance, for example, of ending up in trouble with the law, can provide an opportunity to avert negative life outcomes by creating individually tailored intervention plans.   Such things as significant learning delays, poverty, childhood abuse or neglect, witnessing domestic violence, substances consumed by a child’s pregnant mother whilst he or she is still in the womb, an absence of attachment, structure, boundaries, positive encouragement or correct professional intervention for particular significant issues, invariably lead towards “negative life outcomes” when combined with particular personality types.

gun

Children who come into the world, then, with “Undercontrolled” or “Inhibited” personality types could be described as “guns loaded by Nature”.  But it is Nurture, meaning the presence or absence of certain positive or negative factors, that determines whether or not the “triggers” of these guns are pulled.  “Nurture” and “early positive intervention” are our hope.  The childhood years are indeed, when we look at the set personalities that we are born with, “The Forever Years”, as these personalities persist into adult life.  The outcomes don’t need to be negative, however, if “at risk” personality types are parented accordingly and if we teach our children “Self Control”, an all important trait which is learned, rather than fixed and which we will discuss in a separate article about “The Dunedin Longitudinal Study”.

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“The Dunedin Longitudinal Study”…one of the most amazing and detailed studies EVER of how important “The Forever Years” of childhood are in shaping the adults we become. By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

DLS

“The Dunedin Longitudinal Study” or the “Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study” (now also known just as “The Dunedin Study”) can fairly be described as one of the most amazing and detailed studies EVER of how important “The Forever Years” of childhood are in shaping the adults we become.   Recently a four part TV series was screened about the study. Entitled “Why am I?”, the series looks at the different areas examined in “The Dunedin Study”.  Findings from the study illuminate adult problematic issues, many of which can now be identified within the first five years of life.  For those who have not seen “Why am I?”, it is available at the link below, although friends overseas tell me that they cannot get TVNZ On Demand outside of NZ.  (Give it a go anyway).  For those here in Aotearoa/ NZ, you have to sign up to TVNZ On Demand, but it is free to do so.

Link…

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/why-am-i/episode-1-6474579#

History

The author (far right) with her parents, brother, an aunt and two cousins in Dunedin, 1981

The author (far right) with her parents, brother, an aunt and two cousins in Dunedin, 1981

I have a strong personal interest in this study, because my brother and two of my cousins are/ were participants and it began, and is still based in, my home town, Dunedin/ Ōtepoti, New Zealand/ Aotearoa.  Many memories of my own “Forever Years” are similar to those of study participants.

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Map showing location of Dunedin, New Zealand.

“The Dunedin Study” was started in 1972 by Phil Silva, a teacher and psychologist.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ Psychologist Phil Silva is emeritus director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has tracked around 1000 people from infancy to middle age.

Psychologist Phil Silva is emeritus director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has tracked around 1000 people from infancy to middle age. Source: ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Silva was a teacher first, then a psychologist working with young people with learning and behaviour problems. He helped paediatricians from the Otago University medical school on a neonatology survey of around 250 children. It became the basis of his PhD and opened his eyes to a staggering number of undiagnosed childhood problems. 

A child participant, late 1970s

A child participant, late 1970s

“Kids who couldn’t hear, kids who couldn’t see, kids who had language problems, kids who had language delay. Let’s say that one in 10 had a pretty important problem that had not been identified and dealt with.”

He realised they needed a bigger study of a larger sample group. So they identified the 1037 children born at Dunedin’s Queen Mary Hospital between April 1972 and March 1973. They tested and assessed them at age 3, then 5, 7 and so on.   [Source:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/81109052/national-portrait-phil-silva-psychology-pioneer]

Luckily for Silva and his team, and for all of us, funding for the study has continued and the testing was able to continue as the “babies” grew into children, teenagers and then adults. Dr. Silva retired from his position as director of the study in 1999 and the role was taken over by Dr. Richie Poulton, who continues “The Dunedin Study” today.

The study is unique in that researchers have gone out of their way to retain participants.  Many are now scattered around New Zealand and the world, but, every six years, the study pays for them to be flown, from wherever they are, to Dunedin for testing.  This has resulted in a world record longitudinal study retention rate of 96% of participants (compared with a 30% rate of retention in other studies).  Current director, Dr. Richie Poulton, says,

“…our advantage is that we keep them in. …  We have kept [participants] whether they are transient, incarcerated or on the run from the law.”

The high retention rate of participants, Poulton says, as well as the wide and extremely varied lives they have led, gives weight to the data collected.

Tour 1A

NZ Tourism Poster

“In the early days there was a reluctance to take the study seriously.  Some thought results from 1000 people in New Zealand couldn’t possibly apply to people in other parts of the world.  This was in part due to the 1970s New Zealand Tourism Board, which promoted Aotearoa as a tropical Polynesian destination.” [Source: Why am I?, Episode 1].

As time went by however, it became apparent that results of “The Dunedin Study” were comparable with similar studies in other developed countries around the globe.  Over the past 40 years there has been an average on one academic paper published every 13 days, relating to the findings of “The Dunedin Study”.

We at the “Forever Years” believe these study findings should be available to all people everywhere, and will have a huge impact on our perception of childhood, particularly the early years.    Some of the areas of major findings in children which have continued into their adulthoods are summarised below.

"The Octagon" (Centre of town, Dunedhttp://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/76867478/Dunedin-study-is-the-gift-that-keeps-givingn, NZ, c. 1972

“The Octagon” (Centre of town), Dunedin NZ, c. 1972

For the next few posts, “The Forever Years” will be writing short articles on these topics, the results discovered in “The Dunedin Study” and how these can be used to help children… and people in general.  We will create links on the following topics, so readers can click on them (in the list below) and read about a particular aspect investigated by “The Dunedin Study”.   These will be useful to members of the general public, anywhere in the world, who are unable to access the documentary.  We hope they will also help to summarise and clarify some of the main points made in the documentary and through the research undertaken by “The Dunedin Study”, with a focus on identifying particular issues in early childhood.

Dr. Poulton says the experience of being director of “The Dunedin Study” has changed him and given him a deeper understanding of altruism, trust and courage.  Among participants, he says, are people who have had very hard lives, including those who have trusted researchers with personal information they have never told anyone else, such as having been sexually abused.  “We have to honour their trust,” Poulton says, “…we are the guardians of a reservoir of extraordinary good will.”  He says it is important that the results of the study (and continuing results as the participants move into middle and then old age) move “outside the ivory tower of academia”, so they can be implemented in general society.

Richie Poulton, talking with a child in an early learning centre.

Richie Poulton, talking with a child in an early learning centre.

Childhood is a time of hope and possibility for both children and parents.  “The Dunedin Study” has identified that many adult problems begin much earlier in life than we’d previously imagined.  But it has also found overwhelming evidence of the benefits to children of a good start in life… and that a good start can avert what may initially appear to be negative personality traits (positive nurture can overcome negative nature, if you like).  Overall, then, we at “The Forever Years” believe the message presented in data collected is one of hope for our children, if the results are then acted upon.  Acting upon them will mean early intervention for “at risk” children and a greater investment in our children’s early years, including in supporting parents and in quality early childhood education.  A “good childhood” with a balanced and predictable environment and parenting which is warm, stimulating, sensitive and consistent sets people up for the best life trajectory.

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Related Links…

http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/

http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/about-us

http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/tv-radio/80402120/Dunedin-providing-the-data-that-could-shape-humanitys-future

http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/76867478/Dunedin-study-is-the-gift-that-keeps-giving