Socioemotional behavior at age 8 predicts health behavior through education in midlife. The corresponding study was published in Psychology and Health.
For the study, researchers used data from the Jyväskylä Longitudinal Study of Personality and Social Development, an ongoing study that began in Finland in 1968. They followed participants from age 8 to age 50. Altogether, there were 369 participants at the beginning of the study, and 271 at the end.
At age 8, the researchers collected data on socioemotional characteristics, including behavioral activity, negative emotionality, and well-controlled behavior. In later years, they collected data on adulthood personality traits alongside health-related behaviors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical activity.
In the end, they found that well-controlled behavior at age 8 predicted one’s ability to follow exercise plans in adulthood, whereas more social activity predicted smoking and alcohol consumption.
They also found that social activity in girls and well-controlled behavior in girls and boys predicted better school success in adolescence and higher education in adulthood. Higher education was, in turn, linked to less smoking and alcohol use.
The researchers further noted that negative emotionality in childhood was not directly linked to any health behaviors. Neuroticism in adulthood, however, was linked to smoking in men and alcohol-related problems in men and women.
“The results are in line with previous results based on this same longitudinal data and other studies,” said postdoctoral researcher Tiia Kekäläinen Ph.D., one of the study’s authors.
“In particular, well-controlled behavior has been found to contribute to school success and education. These may provide information and skills that help to make healthy choices. The results of this paper suggest that differences in individuals’ behavior already visible in childhood are reflected in adulthood both directly and through various mediating mechanisms, “ she added.