Impulse Control versus Intelligence

Did you know that kids who can control their impulses do better in school?

While most people believe that intelligence plays the key role in children’s academic achievement, a study by Pennsylvania State University researchers found that the ability to self-regulate—to pay attention to a task and inhibit impulse behavior—was more important than intelligence for early academic success.

The study focused on three-to-five-year-olds and showed that preschoolers’ capacity for self-control was the best predictor of their performance in math and reading in kindergarten. Scores on intelligence tests were not as closely correlated with academic achievement.

A child’s ability to monitor his or her thinking and behavior develops rapidly during preschool. The data gives concrete support to preschool programs that focus more directly on self-regulation to decrease impulsiveness and instant gratification and that promote attention and awareness of one’s own and others’ thoughts and feelings.

Parents interested in boosting their kids’ school readiness should engage them in activities that involve taking turns and paying attention for sustained periods in order to prompt thoughtful responses.