Childhood self-control forecasts the pace of midlife aging and preparedness for old age

Leah S. Richmond-Rakerd, Avshalom Caspi, Antony Ambler, Tracy d’Arbeloff, Marieke de Bruine, Maxwell Elliott, Hona Lee Harrington, Sean Hogan, Renate M. Houts, David Ireland, Ross Keenan, Annchen R. Knodt, Tracy R. Melzer, Sena Park, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen, Elizabeth Sack, Adam T. Schmidt, Maria L. SisonJasmin Wertz, Ahmad R. Hariri, Terrie E. Moffitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The ability to control one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in early life predicts a range of positive outcomes in later life, including longevity. Does it also predict how well people age? We studied the association between self-control and midlife aging in a population-representative cohort of children followed from birth to age 45 y, the Dunedin Study. We measured children’s self-control across their first decade of life using a multi-occasion/multiinformant strategy. We measured their pace of aging and aging preparedness in midlife using measures derived from biological and physiological assessments, structural brain-imaging scans, observer ratings, self-reports, informant reports, and administrative records. As adults, children with better self-control aged more slowly in their bodies and showed fewer signs of aging in their brains. By midlife, these children were also better equipped to manage a range of later-life health, financial, and social demands. Associations with children’s self-control could be separated from their social class origins and intelligence, indicating that self-control might be an active ingredient in healthy aging. Children also shifted naturally in their level of self-control across adult life, suggesting the possibility that self-control may be a malleable target for intervention. Furthermore, individuals’ self-control in adulthood was associated with their aging outcomes after accounting for their self-control in childhood, indicating that midlife might offer another window of opportunity to promote healthy aging.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2010211118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 19 2021

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Health span
  • Longitudinal
  • Self-control
  • Self-regulation

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