Children who are impulsive at 3 years of age are more than twice as likely as well-adjusted children to develop gambling disorders later in life, according to the results of a national study.
In a longitudinal birth cohort study (n=1,037), researchers examined whether pre-existing differences in childhood temperament were predictive of gambling addiction in adulthood. The complete birth cohort was born between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, in Dunedin, New Zealand, part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. Perinatal data were collected at delivery, and the children were followed up at the age of 3 years.
Participants at the age of 3 years underwent a 90-minute assessment of cognitive and motor abilities, after which time an examiner compiled a standardized behavioral-observational inventory. Researchers also measured participants’ intellectual abilities and socioeconomic statuses to control for alternative explanations for associations between childhood temperament and adult disordered gambling. They arrived at five temperament descriptors:
- Undercontrolled (10.4%).
- Inhibited (7.8%).
- Confident (27.5%).
- Reserved (14.8%).
- Well-adjusted (39.6%).
Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with participants aged 21 and 32 years. At age 21 years, participants’ gambling proclivities were assessed using the South Oaks Gambling Screen, and at age 32 years, participants were assessed using the Sydney Laval Universities Gambling Screen and the National Opinion Research Center DSM-IV Screen for Gambling Problems.
Of the 939 participants in the age-21 assessments, 86.5% reported that they had gambled in the past year and 13.3% met the criteria for disordered gambling. According to the researchers, men were “significantly more likely than women” in this age group to report gambling problems. Of the 959 participants in the age-32 assessments, 79.1% reported they had gambled in the past year and 4.2% met the disordered gambling criteria. As with the 21-age assessments, men were more likely than women to report gambling problems (6.4% vs. 1.9%; OR=3.5).
Results showed that participants at the age of 3 years who exhibited “undercontrolled” behavior were significantly more likely than well-adjusted children to develop gambling disorders as adults (OR=2.64). Adult gambling disorders were significantly associated with gender, as well, according to researchers.
“This level of prediction across nearly 30 years is remarkable considering that the classification of the children’s temperaments was based on observing a child for only 90 min.,” the researchers wrote. Although they could not address gambling problems and behaviors of the cohort members during childhood and adolescence — which prevented them from addressing the role of “undercontrol” in the early stages of gambling — the study presented convincing evidence that could lead to a greater understanding of gambling disorders, the researchers wrote.
“Cleanly demonstrating the temporal relation between childhood undercontrol and adult disordered gambling is an important step toward building more developmentally sensitive theories of disordered gambling,” they wrote.