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Preterm Kids May Have Impulsivity Issues Like Those Deprived in Orphanages

Children who were born preterm or at very low birth weight have similar temperament issues as those who experienced deprivation or neglect in an orphanage for at least 6 months, according to a new study published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

Specifically, the findings show that six-year-olds who were born very preterm (under 32 weeks gestation) or very low birthweight (under 3.3 pounds or 1500 grams) have similar temperamental difficulties in controlling their impulses as children who experienced institutional deprivation.

“Both early care either in an incubator, or deprivation and neglect in an orphanage, lead to poor effortful control. We need to further determine how this early deprivation alters the brain,” said Professor Dieter Wolke from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick.

The study highlights how different adverse experiences, such as preterm birth and neglect in an institution, can affect children’s temperament in similar ways, resulting in greater risk for lower self-control.

The international team of researchers looked at children who were born very preterm or very low birth weight from the Bavarian Longitudinal study, and children who had experienced at least six months of institutional deprivation — a lack of adequate, loving caregivers — in Romanian institutions from the English and Romanian Adoptees study. These children were then compared to 311 healthy term born children and 52 non-deprived adoptees, respectively.

The researchers, from the University of Warwick (England), University of Tennessee, University of Southampton (England) and King’s College London, found that both groups of children had lower self-control (effortful control) at 6 years of age.

This is the first study that directly compares the effects of severe preterm birth and extended institutional deprivation, and suggests that self-control interventions early in life may promote the development of children after both risk experiences.

“These findings suggest that children’s poor effortful control may underlie long-term social problems associated with early adverse experiences; thus, improving their self-control may also help prevent these later problems,” said Lucia Miranda Reyes, a researcher and doctoral student from the Department of Child and Family Studies at the University of Tennessee.

The paper is published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

Source: University of Warwick

Preterm Kids May Have Impulsivity Issues Like Those Deprived in Orphanages

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Preterm Kids May Have Impulsivity Issues Like Those Deprived in Orphanages. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Nov 2019 (Originally: 13 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Nov 2019
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