New research has linked a pattern of impulsiveness in young boys with gambling problems in late adolescence.
According to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, boys considered to be in a “high impulsivity track” as early as first grade doubled the odds of meeting criteria for at risk/problem gambling, and tripled the odds of meeting criteria for problem gambling.
Impulsivity is defined as a tendency to make rush decisions without carefully considering potential negative consequences.
The researchers studied 310 males from first grade to late adolescence in an urban community in Baltimore. About 87 percent were African American, while 70 percent were in a low socioeconomic group.
Ratings of classroom behavior were based on a Teacher Report of Classroom Behavior Checklist and included items such as “waits for turn,” “interrupts,” and “blurts out answers.” Annual assessments were made from ages 11 through 15.
According to the researchers, the students fell into two distinct trajectories: 41 percent had a high impulse trajectory, while 59 percent were in a lower impulse trajectory.
While impulsivity tended to decline as the boys matured, those with high levels of impulsivity in first grade were far more likely to remain among the 41 percent at adolescence, the researchers noted.
Gambling behavior was assessed through interviews with students at ages 17, 19, and 20. Self-reported gambling behavior was assessed using the South Oaks Gambling Screen-Revised for Adolescents.
The investigators found that boys in the high impulse trajectory group were twice as likely to meet the criteria for “at-risk” gambling behavior and three times the risk for problem gambling.
Overall, 67 percent of the boys in the study reported they engaged in some gambling, with 20 percent meeting the criteria for at-risk gambling, and 9 percent meeting the criteria for problem gamblers.
“Our findings reveal that there is a considerable link between youth impulsivity in the younger years and gambling issues as older teens,” says Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “This has important implications and provides clear research support for targeting impulsivity to prevent youth problem gambling.”
While other research has shown a connection between impulsiveness and gambling, those studies measured impulsivity at a single point-in-time and gambling either concurrently or at a later point-in-time, rather than linking gambling in the late teens to traits of impulsiveness as early as first grade, according to the researchers, who note the earlier research was with a predominantly white population.
The researchers note that this study also is different because it specifically considers socioeconomic status of urban minority youth, a population that is disproportionately more likely to exhibit both impulsivity and problem gambling.
“We see this as a study strength, given the small amount of research there is on the impulsivity-gambling association among urban minority populations,” said Martins. “However, generalizations to the larger population should be made with caution.”
“We also chose to base our study on males only because females tend to exhibit lower levels of impulsivity and show different patterns of development compared to males,” she added.
The Columbia researchers also used teacher-reported assessments rather than participants’ self-reported measures of impulsivity as was the case in earlier works. “Teacher ratings of youth impulsivity tend to be more consistent and reliable for predicting future psychiatric disorder diagnoses compared to adolescent self-reports,” she said. “From our findings we see that teaching impulse control early in elementary school may have a long term benefit in decreasing the likelihood of youth following an elevated trajectory of impulsivity.”
The study appears online in the journal Addiction.