Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2009


It's hard to imagine sesame streeters heading for Vegas, but psychologist Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal thinks it's never too early to look for signs of problem gambling. In 1999, Pagani began a study of 163 kindergartners. She had their teachers fill out a questionnaire, rating the kids' attentiveness and hyperactivity on a scale of 1 to 9. Six years later, she did follow-up interviews with the same kids, and in 2009 she released the results. Every point higher the subjects had scored on the 1-to-9 scale, she found, increased by 25% the likelihood that they'd be playing bingo, cards and video poker for money by sixth grade. Parents, she says, must focus more on teaching young kids impulse control — and repeating the lessons until they stick. Not only may the kids' behavior improve from this, but their brains may benefit too. Kindergarten is a time when the prefrontal lobes — the seat of what's known as executive function, or what some researchers call effortful control — are just developing. The more training the brain receives at this stage, the better it will function later in life.