A minority report finds three-year-olds can be tested to find out their likelihood of becoming criminals or welfare dependents later on in life, based on an assessment of intelligence, receptive language, and motor skills.
The study, called “Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden,” was conducted by researchers from three different universities observing almost 1,000 people in Dunedin, New Zealand over the span of 35 years, and published in Nature Human Behaviour. The study’s subjects were observed beginning in 1972, from they were age three up until they were 38 years old.
Just one-fifth of the entire study sample were found responsible for 81% of criminal convictions, 66% of welfare benefits, and 75% of drug dependents of the whole group. That same one-fifth spent more than half of the nights spent in hospitals and smoked more than half of the cigarettes smoked by the whole group.
These one-out-of-five individuals could have been detected decades in advance just by undergoing a 45-minute "brain health" test at the age of three.
Led by psychology, behavior, psychiatry and neuroscience researcher Dr. Avshalom Caspi, the study claims by testing and finding who these children are, childhood intervention and prevention could be more effective and become a major societal boost.
“Childhood risks, including poor brain health at three years of age, predicted this segment with large effect sizes,” the study’s abstract states. “Early-years interventions that are effective for this population segment could yield very large returns on investment.”
Fatherless child-years were also taken into account as factors contributing to the test subjects’ unfortunate destinies. Moreover, the twenty percent of test subjects accounting for the majority of societal burdens for the whole group also accounted for 82% of their children’s fatherless years.
Critics argued perhaps later-year interventions might involve more advanced technology and thus yield better results; but Caspi says it is unlikely later-year interventions will be as effective as stepping in during a child’s most crucial years of brain development.
The study emphasizes findings like this one should not be used to blame the study subjects; rather, to find a way to help the children who might be destined to lives of poverty and crime without intervention. The potential for misuse of this information was acknowledged as well, but Caspi says he is determined to search for the most accurate information and based on that, the most beneficial treatments available.
"The purpose of this was not to use these data to complicate children's lives any further,” Caspi said. "It's to say these children - all children - need a lot of resources, and helping them could yield a remarkable return on investment when they grow up."
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