Have you heard of the Dunedin Study?  It is an amazing piece of science.  In 1972 Dr Phil Silva and colleagues tracked down over 1000 newly born babies located around Dunedin in New Zealand.  They then measured everything they could think of about these children and have continued to do so for forty years.

In its early years the study struggled to get the recognition it deserved perhaps because Otago University doesn’t have the same ring to it as MIT or Harvard, but in recent times it has been recognised for the mighty contribution it has brought to our understanding of human development.

As you can imagine in the course of forty years there have been many important findings unearthed, but I think one of the most fascinating research focuses related to whether it was possible to predict the success of a person later in life by characteristics they showed in early childhood.

They found that this could be done, and that one of the best indicators was the child’s level of self control (Moffitt et al, 2011).  They found that children vary in their ability to control themselves. Some are better than others in:

  • Responding to their own emotions – the choice between aggression and reason, for instance
  • Managing their own desires – for instance deferring immediate gratification in order to achieve a meaningful goal
  • Persevering – sticking with an objective until it is achieved, even when the going gets tough

They found that children with high self control grew into adults with high self control and that this in turn had a big impact on a number of practical outcomes for the person, such as how much money they earned, their levels of health and wellbeing, the quality of their relationships and whether they tended to commit crimes.

The key message is to hire employees with high levels of self control, and the Conscientiousness scale of a valid personality measure such as the HEXACO is a good indicator of this.  Click here to find out how to do this.  Low self control is also a key indicator of the likelihood of dangerous behaviours in employees.  Click here to check out our upcoming events on the topic of dangerous employees.


Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Moffitt, T.E., Arseneault, L. , Belsky, D.W., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J. , Harrington, H. L., Houts, R., Poulton, R. , Roberts, B.W., Ross, S., Sears, M.R., Thomson, W. M. , Caspi, A. | 2011

A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA), 2011, 108(108), 2693-2698.


Andrew Marty