Impulsivity At Age Seven Associated With Gambling Problems During Adulthood

What if you could examine a group of seven-year-olds and predict which of them were more likely to someday develop a gambling disorder? A recent study in the journalAddictionattempts to do just that by analyzing the association between impulsive behavior at age seven and the development of problem gambling by adulthood. The authors found that, compared to their non-impulsive counterparts, children who exhibited impulsive behaviors at age seven were 3.09 times more likely to report problem gambling behavior in later years. Read on for more details about this investigation, the first to predict gambling problems over a 30-year span.

Previous studies have suggested that manifestations of impulsivity appear to be a key personality characteristic among adult problem gamblers. However, the value of these past investigations were limited, in part, because they depended on adult study participants’ ability to accurately recall past events. In contrast, this study tested the subjects for impulsivity at age seven, thus avoiding recall bias.

The participants in this study were children selected from the Boston, Mass., and Providence, R.I., cohorts of the Collaborative Perinatal Project (CPP). The CPP was a multicenter study of prenatal and perinatal antecedents of childhood mental, neurological and physical abilities. The participants’ development was assessed at various times up to age seven. Behavioral functioning was assessed by psychologists on a structured profile completed as part of a two-hour battery of cognitive, sensory and motor tests.

To investigate problem gambling prevalence over time, a segment of the participants from the study were sent the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS) assessment as adults. This yielded 958 participants. Impulsive behaviors were substantially more common among the group with measures of lifetime problem gambling (i.e., the group that exhibited impulsive behaviors at seven years) and probable pathological gambling than those without a history of gambling problems. This finding provides evidence that the influence of early behavior problems on the development of lifetime pathological gambling is specific to measures of childhood impulsivity.

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Shenassa, E. D., Paradis, A. D., Dolan, S. L., Wilhelm, C. S., & Buka, S. L. (In Press). Childhood impulsive behavior and problem gambling by adulthood: A 30-year prospective community-based study.Addiction.

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