Can test for 3-year-olds predict who’ll end up in jail or on drugs?
The simple test, developed by researchers at King’s College London, takes 45 minutes and gauges children’s intelligence, language and motor skills, as well as their levels of tolerance, restlessness, impulsivity and social disadvantage.
Three-year-olds who score the lowest results are more likely to receive criminal convictions or end up relying on welfare benefits.
Scientists followed 1,000 children from before they started school until they were adults aged 38, to see if it was possible to predict who would end up having a troubled life.
After 35 years, researchers found 20 percent of the 1,000 children became a much greater drain on society than the other 80 percent.
One fifth of the group was responsible for 81 percent of the criminal convictions, three quarters of drug prescriptions, two thirds of welfare benefits payments and more than half of nights in hospital.
This finding confirmed to researchers that the ‘Pareto principle’ – which states that for many events, 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes – can also be applied to human behavior.
“About 20 percent of the population is using the lion’s share of a wide array of public services,” said Professor Terrie Moffitt of King’s College and Duke University in North Carolina.
“The same people use most of the NHS (National Health Service), the criminal courts, insurance claims for disabling injury, pharmaceutical prescriptions and special welfare benefits.”
Researchers also learned this outcome can be predicted simply by looking at how well the participants scored on the test they were given at age three.
They hope to use the test to determine who is at greater risk, so that interventions can be made to prevent them becoming a burden on society.
Moffitt said it is easy to think of these people as “lazy bums who are freeloading off the taxpayer and exploiting the public purse.”
“But we also went further back into their childhood and found that 20 percent begin their lives with mild problems with brain function and brain health when they were very small children. Looking at health examinations really changed the whole picture. It gives you a feeling of compassion for these people as opposed to a feeling of blame.
“Being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories for everyone’s benefit, and could bring big returns on investment for government.”