A simple impulsivity test may be able to predict how well a toddler will perform academically at age eight, according to a new study at the University of Warwick.
The findings show that toddlers who were born very prematurely tend to be more impulsive and subsequently have lower academic achievement in elementary school.
The impulsivity test involved a single raisin and a transparent cup. The idea was to see if a 20-month old child could patiently wait a full minute before picking up the piece of dried fruit. After three practice runs, the toddlers were asked to wait until they were told (60 seconds) that it was OK to touch and eat the raisin.
Children who were born very prematurely were more likely to take the raisin before the time was up. In a follow-up study seven years later, the researchers found that the more impulsive toddlers weren’t performing as well in school as their full-term peers.
“An easy, five-minute raisin game task represents a promising new tool for follow-up assessments to predict attention regulation and learning in preterm and term born children. The results also point to potential innovative avenues to early intervention after preterm birth,” said senior author Professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School.
The research was part of the ongoing Bavarian Longitudinal Study which began in Germany in 1985. During the study, 558 children born at 25 to 41 weeks gestation were assessed for self-control once they were 20 months old. The results of those born preterm at 25 to 38 weeks were compared to children born full term at 39 to 41 weeks.
Around age eight, the same children were evaluated by a team of psychologists and pediatricians using three different behavior ratings of attention from mothers, psychologists, and the whole research team. Academic achievement — including mathematics, reading, and spelling/writing — was assessed using standardized tests.
The findings showed that the lower the gestational age, the lower a toddler’s inhibitory control — and the more likely those children would have poor attention skills and low academic achievement at eight years of age.
“This new finding is a key piece in the puzzle of long-term underachievement after preterm birth,” said Dr. Julia Jaekel, lead author of the study and honorary research fellow at the University of Warwick and assistant professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee.
The researchers believe that being able to identify cognitive problems early on could result in the development of a specialized, tailored education to help prevent these children from underachievement at school and later on as adults.
The study is published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Source: University of Warwick