Field of Science


What Happens to Chatterboxes

Do you have videos of yourself at age seven? If so, you can probably see predictors of your current personality in your miniature self. A new study from a graduate student at the University of California, Riverside, says that certain personality traits in elementary schoolers are linked to certain other traits in middle-aged adults.

Psychology student Christopher Nave culled his data from a (very) long-term study that began in Hawaii in the 1960s. Elementary school teachers rated 2,400 students on dozens of personality traits: Is the student adaptable (copes easily and successfully with new and strange situations)? Is the student spiteful (deliberately does or says things that annoy or hurt others)?

Forty years later, researchers started hunting down these former students. So far, they've brought back about 450 of them. (Where did everyone go?) These good sports completed various tests and interviews, and out of those, Nave compared 144 who'd agreed to be videotaped and whose teachers had rated them on the same traits.

Based on their taped interviews and personality surveys, the adults were rated on 67 different traits. Many of the kid traits turned out to be strongly correlated with adult traits, and the researchers described four that were the most distinctive:

Verbal fluency, to psychologists, apparently means "chattiness" rather than "ability to speak one's native tongue." Adults who had been rated verbally fluent as kids were found to be smart, ambitious, controlling, and interested in intellectual matters. Kids who were adaptable became adults who are cheerful and sociable. Impulsive kids ("often acts before the appropriate moment; finds it difficult to hold back") were more likely, as adults, to be loud and energetic. And kids described as self-minimizing ("humble; never brags or shows off") were likely to seek reassurance and express guilty feelings as adults.

Maybe this is bad news for parents who were hoping they could teach their kid to be less impulsive. Or maybe it lets them off the hook a little. After all, if your kid's personality is already set at age six or seven, then there's not much you can do about it. (Half the kids in the analysis were in first or second grade, and half were in fifth or sixth grade. But these correlations were all found to be independent of grade level.)

Don't you wish you knew how your younger self measured up? It's like checking yesterday's horoscope to see if it came true. Or maybe you have a good sense of what you were like as a little kid. I remember my dad calling me a "chatterbox" in kind of a strained tone, so I'm guessing I talked a lot. According to the study, that means I'm less likely to seek advice now. Is that true? Do you think I should do something about it? Wait, no, don't tell me.

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