More Evidence for Self-Control

by Robert Pondiscio
January 31st, 2011

Early to bed and early to rise may not make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  But self-control just might.  A long-term study shows that kids who demonstrate early signs of self-control “were not only less likely to have developed addictions or committed a crime by adulthood, but were also healthier and wealthier than their more impulsive peers,” reports Time Magazine

“Kids who scored low on such measures — for instance, becoming easily frustrated, lacking persistence in reaching goals or performing tasks, or having difficulty waiting their turn in line — were roughly three times more likely to wind up as poor, addicted, single parents or to have multiple health problems as adults, compared with children who behaved more conscientiously as early as age 3.”

The Duke University study followed 1,000 children in New Zealand for more over 30 years and bolsters the findings of the now-famous “marshmallow study” which linked self-control with higher SAT scores later on.  “It’s a very cool study,” Dr. Bruce Perry of Northwestern University tells the magazine.  “This is taken from data from what is probably the best long-term study in our field.”

Only 10% of children in the “high self-control” group grew up to earn less than $20,000 per year compared with one in three of more impulsive kids.


  1. Can self control be learned? Are schools helping students develop self-controlling behaviors? Perhaps not very effectively as we can see in the larger society much evidence of a shortage of self control; we have not exhibited much of it in our obesity or in our foreclosures, no in our tendency to overstep the boundaries of decency and well-being as we text and drive while talking on the phone. Nationally, we fail at self control! We prefer the customer-service paradigm of having what we want when we want it.

    Comment by chris krause frazee — January 31, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  2. It’s amazing. given the data on self-control. that standards and curriculum so conveniently ignore the most dire, foundational deficits that our most disadvantaged children demonstrate in the classroom. Teaching of self-regulation strategies and emotional coping mechanisms should be explicit and systematic. This is the invisible curriculum that children with exceptional learning needs and/or raised in situations of chronic and acute stress desperately require.

    In answer to the comment above–yes, research has demonstrated that self-control capacity can be built, just like a muscle. Are schools helping students develop these skills? No.

    Comment by Mark — February 2, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

  3. In the days when almost all kids (poor and minority) were raised by married biological parents in stable communities, self control started at home. Even young toddlers could sit quietly in church and other formal occasions and behave properly to adults. That conduct was expected and was explicitly taught both at home and at school. Many of today’s communities are chaotic and dysfunctional, with parents unable to cope with their own lives, let alone with their kids’; the need for schools to provide structure and teach appropriate behavior is commensurately greater.

    Comment by anonymous — February 4, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

  4. While the disruption of the nuclear family, as well as, the watering down of the quality of education are obvious factors and contributors to the increased lack of self-control. The root system of Impulsive America also consists of two other major factors: popular media (especially TV and video games) and our reliance on unwholesome food. Two quick supporting details: Video games create a child that can easily hit the “reset” button or change games with little effort. Secondly, the studies on factory produced food additives, say for instance, high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified corn are two culprits that are pervasive in our food supply. Studies are demonstrating that WE need to be concerned about their impact on not only health considerations, but also behavior.

    Comment by Clarky — February 15, 2011 @ 9:39 am

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