Moody, restless and inattentive Kiwi toddlers are twice as likely to develop gambling problems in adulthood than well-adjusted preschoolers, according to a new study.
The US-New Zealand led study characterised about 1000 Dunedin three-year-olds into one of five personality types - under-controlled, inhibited, confident, reserved or well-adjusted - based on a 90-minute observation in the 1970s.
These people were revisited at ages 21 and 32 and asked whether they had developed a gambling problem in adulthood.
Of about 100 people rated as under-controlled toddlers, including those found inattentive, restless and moody, close to a third said they had an issue with gambling later on in life.
Problem gambling was considered one of the following: a need to wager more and more to get the same enjoyment; getting into financial, personal or work-related difficulty because of gambling; and difficulty in cutting down or quitting.
Of about 400 people considered well-adjusted as preschoolers, just under 15 per cent said gambling had been a problem.
"Among the compulsive gamblers, men were more numerous than women, as were those with low childhood intelligence and socioeconomic status," University of Missouri psychologist and researcher Wendy Slutske said.
"But under-controlled temperament in toddlerhood remained a significant predictor of disordered gambling in adulthood, even after gender, intelligence, and socioeconomic status were taken into account."
She adds, though, the number of participants considered compulsive gamblers was relatively small.
Ms Slutske says the implications of the study go beyond gambling.
"It fits into a larger story about how self-control in early childhood is related to important life outcomes in adulthood."
The research was published by Psychological Science and carried out by Ms Slutske, Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, both of Duke University, and Richie Poulton of the University of Otago.