AMERICAN SCIENCE in the Sept-Oct 2013 issue pages 352 to 359 is an article titled "Lifelong Impact of Early Self-Control. subtitled Childhood self-discipline predicts adult qualtity of life. This is based on a set of long-term studies and the implications are great for education and educators, parents, legislators, and taxpayers. I realize that sounds almost too good to be true and an awful lot like snake oil and I urge you if you are in any of the categories that you read the whole article and not just my attempt to summarize.
The authors Terrie E. Moffitt, Ricie Poulton, and Avsalom Caspi start off with what seems to be an assertion but is followed with lots of data.
"The capacity for self-control over our thoughts and actions is a fundamental human faculty. But the inability to make use of that capacity can our greatest personal failure especially in today's fast-paced, fast-food world of endliess possiblility, distraction, and temptation...."
The studies used include a study of differences in outcomes for twins when one showed self-control early and the other did not is part of their cohort of studies. Another involves outcomes of Head Start students. A third is a longitudinal study about 1000 New Zealanders studied at intervals of one to three years for nearly forty years. This is the Dunedin Study.
I can't put all of that data and information in here, but a perhaps too simple or sweeping condensation of that information leads to several important conclusions.
To their own surprise, the 40-year study of 1000 students showed that early self-control was as signficicant or more significant in results of accomplishment and success than high or low intelligence, richness or poorness, with results correlating with levels of self-control. The data indicates that children with early lack of self-control grew up to be adults with more financial problems and difficulties. Also shown was that 80% of those convicted of criminal offenses came from the cohort's two lowest quintiles of childhood self-control. Overall, those with lower self-control also appear to be the least skilled in parenting ability. This implies that a child's low self-control can cause disadvantages for the next generation.
We can be suspicious of data which seems to show so much but these studies seem to isolate self-control from other variables. The twins study was important in this.
Without detailing more of the data, the following may be the more important aspects for teachers and lawmakers. Self-control can be influenced by classroom instruction aimed at producing it in young children and the benfits carry into adulthood Teens and adults can also improve self-control. Innovative policies putting more emphasis on self-control can have signficant impact on a whole panoply of costs in areas of crime control, social welfare, and education. This increased effort in areas of self-control might lessen the need for restrictive laws that put penalties on failure to exercise self-control such as banning smoking in public places, seatbelts and helmet laws, etc. While the authors do not make this statement, it seems that it is far more rational for society to improve early childhood education than to spend more and more money on courts, prisons, and punishment.
Demographic changes make such programs to increase self-control even more important. With a combinatin of fewer children and older populations, the self-control abilities of all ages becomes more and more important.
I hope you will take time to find this magazine and read the full article since my summary here does not do full justice to the quality of the studies, the article or to the implications.
*** Stay tuned and be glad that Marian McPartland lived until she was 95. May the "jazz pianist" rest in peace. My wife and I saw her in a free performance at Rochester, NY over 40 years ago. We did not realize her contributions at the time, but we sure enjoyed the concert and years of radio at SDPB-Radio--- Doug Wiken