New research looks at how managing emotions and impulses from a young age can relate to better health and success in adulthood
IHMRI PhD candidate Davina Robson from UOW’s School of Psychology has published a new study that shows children who display greater willpower tend to have better outcomes in later life.
In her first published academic paper, and working closely with UOW’s Dr Mark Allen and Associate Professor Steven Howard, Davina analysed data from 150 studies comprising 215,212 children.
“We all know how important childhood is to set the foundations for learning, behaviour, emotional and social skills. Self-regulation is one of these important skills children need to learn, but this is the first time it has been investigated in a large scale meta-analysis,” said Davina.
As a primary school teacher, Mrs Robson says she observes how self-regulation plays out in the classroom and in the playground on a daily basis.
“You can see that the children who struggle to manage their emotions also have difficulty in social and classroom situations.”
- A literature search identified 150 scientific studies that met the research criteria.
- The age range of children was 3 to 12 years old.
- The outcome categories were achievement, interpersonal behaviours, mental health and healthy living.
- High self-regulation in preschool was associated with better social skills, school engagement, and academic performance.
- Poor self-regulation in preschool was associated with more internalising problems, peer victimisation and externalising problems in early school years.
- High self-regulation in childhood was reflected in higher academic achievement in math and literacy, and a decreased likelihood of aggressive and criminal behaviour, depressive symptoms, obesity and substance misuse in later school years and adulthood.
- Overall, findings from the meta-analysis provide evidence that self-regulation in childhood can predict achievement, interpersonal behaviours, mental health and healthy living later in life.
Advice for those passionate about research
“I want to encourage people that you are never too old to give new things a go. I wanted to give research a try so I asked around and people were generous with their advice and time,” said Davina.
“I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of research and data analysis after a career in the classroom. It’s been my experience that colleagues pick up your enthusiasm and interest and it creates new opportunities and collaborations.”
“I was lucky enough to be funded by UOW’s School of Psychology to present my research at two conferences in 2019 – The RANZCP Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Conference in Newcastle and The 20th International Mental Health Conference in Queensland.”
“Conferences are a great place to share research and you have to turn your research into an interesting story to capture the audience’s interest. Plus the feedback is invaluable.”
“I now want to focus on the impacts of educational neuroscience combining my background in education and psychology.”
Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator
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Top photo: Davina Robson
Photo by: Lizzie Jack