Socially active children more likely to drink, smoke during adulthood

JYVÄSKYLÄ, Finland — A child’s personality may reveal how likely they are to drink and smoke when they’re older, a new study reveals. Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have found a link between socioemotional behavior at the age of eight and that person’s health-related habits later in life.

Specifically, they found that well-controlled behavior among young girls led to more physical activity during middle age. Children with this type of personality generally behave kindly and constructively during conflicts.

More social activity during childhood, however, predicted heavier alcohol use among women and smoking among men. Researchers describe social activity as an eagerness to talk and play with other children.

“Well-controlled behavior may appear as good self-discipline and the ability to follow the exercise plans in adulthood,” says postdoctoral researcher Tiia Kekäläinen in a university release. “Social activity, on the other hand, may have led later to social situations where smoking and alcohol consumption were started.”

Education also plays a role

The team also found a link between a child’s personality, their education, and the healthy habits they have later in life. More socially active girls and well-controlled boys and girls all had more school success during adolescence. These groups also went on to participate in higher education during adulthood.

In turn, higher educational achievement displayed a connection to adults smoking and drinking less.

“The results are in line with previous results based on this same longitudinal data and other studies,” Kekäläinen adds. “In particular, well-controlled behavior has been found to contribute to school success and education. These may provide information and skills that help to make healthy choices. The results of this paper suggest that differences in individuals’ behavior already visible in childhood are reflected in adulthood both directly and through various mediating mechanisms.”

To reach these conclusions, the team examined data from the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development (JYLS). This study followed the same group of people from 1968, when they were eight years-old, collecting data on their socio-emotional behavior and parental socioeconomic status during childhood. The study also examined school success at age 14, educational background at age 27, personality traits at age 33, and their individual health behaviors at ages 36, 42, and 50.

The study is published in the journal Psychology & Health.

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