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Wednesday, March 4 2009
Press release

Impulsivity in kindergarten may predict gambling behavior by sixth grade.

Montreal, March 4, 2009 - Children whose teachers rated them as more impulsive in kindergarten are more likely to start gambling behaviors by the sixth grade, according to a new study in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Although gambling has become an increasingly common activity among North American adults and teens, public health risks remain the researchers conclude.

“Problematic gambling in adults is associated with substance use, depression and suicide, psychopathology, poor general health and a multitude of family, legal and criminal problems,” says lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.

“Most disconcerting is how young people seem more vulnerable than adults to gambling-related illness and suicide. In most cases, data suggests that youth gambling is a precursor to pathological gambling in adulthood.”

Dr. Pagani, with colleagues from McGill University and the Université du Québec à Montréal, studied 163 children who were in kindergarten beginning in 1999 (average age 5.5). At the start of the school year, teachers were asked to complete a questionnaire rating their students’ inattentiveness, distractibility and hyperactivity on a scale from one to nine (higher values indicated a higher degree of impulsiveness).

Six years into the study, when the children were an average of 11.5 years old, they were interviewed by phone and asked whether and how often they played cards or bingo, bought lottery tickets, played video games or video poker for money or placed bets at sports venues or with friends. After considering other behaviors that may be associated with youth gambling, including parental gambling, a one point increase on the kindergarten impulsivity scale corresponded to a 25 percent increase in a child’s involvement in gambling by the sixth grade.

“Our results suggest that inattentiveness, distractibility and hyperactivity as of kindergarten represent a vulnerability factor for precocious risk-oriented behavior like gambling in sixth grade,” says Dr. Pagani.

“It’s plausible that childhood characteristics snowball into cumulative risks. Youngsters who do not eventually outgrow early childhood distractibility and inattentiveness might become involved in gambling as a typical pastime. Most important, our observations suggest a developmentally continuous effect of impulsivity that places individuals on a life course trajectory toward gambling in adolescence and into adulthood.”

The research team also found that brain mechanisms underlying both impulsivity and problem gambling may include reward pathways and areas associated with decision-making and self-regulation. Training in self-control and executive functions before first grade may show positive results, they conclude.

Partners in research:

This study was supported by Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

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For information
Nicole Saint-Pierre CHU Sainte-Justine

Persons mentioned in the text

About the Study:
The paper, “Predicting gambling behaviour in sixth grade from kindergarten impulsivity,” published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was authored by Linda S. Pagani (Université de Montréal/Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center), Jeffrey L. Derevensky (McGill University) and Christa Japel (Université du Québec à Montréal).

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Updated on 11/20/2014
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