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I was awarded ESRC Future Leaders (2014-2017) and Marie Skłodowska-Curie (2018-2019) grants to trace the potential long reach of childhood self-control in shaping adult health and well-being. The project was based on the idea that children who can successfully delay gratification and control impulses will go on to have healthier lifestyles, lead more prosperous lives, and be healthier individuals in later adulthood. The findings from this project and related research are discussed in a recent Irish Times article. For a brief introduction to self-control research also see my overview here


Existing studies have linked a strong capacity for self-control to nearly all aspects of healthy living: avoiding high fat and sugar foods, engaging in exercise, and staying clear of addictive substances. Further, in prior work I have linked trait self-control to more favourable patterns of health behaviour, well-being and biological functioning (Daly et al., 2014). This programme of research builds on this work by taking a lifespan approach and providing scientific evidence detailing whether individual differences in self-control contribute to the emergence of patterns of health behaviour and health problems across life.


For this project I am currently writing several papers with key collaborators (Prof. Roy Baumeister & Prof. Liam Delaney) tracking how early life self-control links to later health outcomes (e.g. body mass index, cardiovascular disease risk markers).

Details of how this work has progressed to date are included below:


I have examined the interlinkages between self-control and related concepts and measures of health behaviour and biological function from early life to old age:


Allan, J.L., McMinn, D., & Daly, M. (2016). A bidirectional relationship between executive function and health behavior: evidence, implications, and future directions. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10(386).


Daly, M., Delaney, L., & Baumeister, R. F. (2015). Self-control, future orientation, smoking, and the impact of Dutch tobacco control measures. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 89 - 96. 

Daly, M., Egan, M., Quigley, J., Delaney, L., & Baumeister, R.F. (2016). Childhood self-control predicts smoking throughout life: Evidence from 21,000 cohort study participants. Health Psychology, 35, 1254-1263.

Daly, M., McMinn, D., & Allan, J. L. (2015). A bidirectional relationship between physical activity and executive function in older adults. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 1044.

Daly, M. (in preparation). Adult health outcomes of childhood self-control and social disadvantage in the United Kingdom.

In addition, I am interested in unpicking the complex interrelationships between self-control, socioeconomic status, and the development of health. As an initial step in this process I have investigated how childhood self-control shapes key socioeconomic variables (e.g. unemployment, education, income, social mobility, pension savings). Building on this work, I aim to test whether socioeconomic pathways like educational attainment, occupational prestige, and unemployment can explain why childhood self-control is linked to adult health and well-being.

Daly, M., Delaney, L., Egan, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2015). Childhood self-control and unemployment throughout the lifespan: evidence from two British cohort studies. Psychological Science, 26, 709 - 723. 

Egan, M., Daly, M., Delaney, L., Boyce, C., & Wood, A. (2017). Adolescent conscientiousness predicts lower lifetime unemployment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102, 700 - 709. 

Lades, L.K., Egan, M., Delaney, L., & Daly, M. (2017). Childhood self-control and adult pension participation. Economics Letters, 161, 102-104. 

O’Reilly, F., Daly, M., & Delaney, L. (in preparation). Childhood self-control predicts financial success and social mobility from early career to midlife.


The UK Society for Behavioural Medicine selected the submission: "Childhood self-control predicts smoking throughout life: Evidence from 21,000 cohort study participants" as one of two Prize Winning Presentations for the 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting. 


The ESRC Future Leaders grant funded a workshop on "Self-control & Public Policy" which took place in the University of Stirling on the 15th of September, 2017 to mark the completion of the grant (keynote: Professor Denise de Ridder, Utrecht University). 


I have presented this work at numerous recent national and international conferences and workshops:


2017 – Can childhood self-control compensate for the health impact of social disadvantage?                                 

            European Health Psychology Society Annual Conference, Padua, Italy

2017 – Adult health outcomes of childhood self-control and social disadvantage.              

            14th Annual Psychology, Health, & Medicine Conference, RCSI, Dublin, Ireland


2017 – Lifespan outcomes of childhood self-control.                                                           

            ESRC Self-Control & Public Policy Workshop, Stirling, UK


2017 – Childhood self-control and economic and health outcomes across life.        

            Quantitative Social Science Seminar Series, University College London, UK


2017 – Self-control, economic outcomes, and well-being across life.             

            Behavioural Science & Public Policy Workshop, University College Dublin

2017 – Time discounting predicts inflammation in later life.

             American Psychosomatic Society Annual Conference, Seville, Spain

2016 –  Childhood self-control and economic and health outcomes across life.          

             Social Cognition Center Cologne, University of Cologne

2016 –  Self-control, health, and public policy.                                                          

             Economics and Psychology Annual Conference, Queen's University Belfast, N. Ireland

2016 – Could childhood self-control shape the health and success of a nation?      

            Children and Families Directorate, the Scottish Government, UK

2016 – Childhood self-control predicts trajectories of weight gain and obesity throughout life in two British cohorts.                        European Health Psychology Society & BPS Division of Health Psychology Annual Conference, Aberdeen, UK

2016 – Childhood self-control predicts smoking throughout life: Evidence from 21,000 cohort study participants.                             31st International Congress of Psychology, Yokohama, Japan

2016 – Childhood self-control and economic and health outcomes across life.                              

            Institute for Economic Analysis of Decision-making, University of Sheffield, UK

2016 – Childhood self-control and economic and health outcomes across life: evidence from two British cohort studies.  

            Institute of Psychology, Health, & Society Seminar Series, University of Liverpool, UK


2015 –  Childhood self-control and mortality by midlife.

             UK Society for Behavioural Medicine Annual Scientific Meeting, Newcastle, UK


2015 –  Self-control, time preferences, and health and well-being across the lifespan.

             SIRE Behavioural Science of Self-Control Workshop, Stirling, UK


2015 –   Poor childhood self-control predicts physiological dysregulation in midlife.

              'Childhood self-control and adult health & economic outcomes' Symposium (organised by

              Daly & O'Reilly), CLS Cohort Studies Research Conference, London, United Kingdom

2015 –   Early life individual differences and socio-economic events across life.

              'Personality & Socioeconomic Events' Symposium (organised by Daly),

               APS International Convention of Psychological Science, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


2015 –   Childhood self-control and adult health: evidence from two British cohort studies.

              12th Annual Psychology, Health, & Medicine Conference, Belfast, Ireland


2015 –   Time preferences and health and well-being in later life.                                          

              InstEAD Workshop ‘Exploring the Intersections between Economics and Psychology', University of Sheffield, UK


2015 –   Self-control and well-being.

              Day Reconstruction Method Conference (sponsored by the Princeton University NIA

              Roybal Center & OECD), Los Angeles, US


2014 –  Time preferences predict inflammation in later life.                                                  

              UK Society for Behavioural Medicine Annual Scientific Meeting, Nottingham, UK


2014 –   Time preferences and inflammation in later life.                                               

              Economics and Psychology Annual Conference, Dublin, Ireland


2014 –   Poor childhood self-discipline predicts physiological dysregulation in midlife.

              ESRC Workshop on Early Life Influences on Later Life Health & Economic Outcomes, University of Stirling, UK


2014 –  Time discounting and health in later life.                                          

              International Congress of Applied Psychology, Paris, France


2014 –   Childhood self-discipline and physiological dysregulation in midlife.

              American Psychosomatic Society Annual Meeting, San Francisco, United States



2016 –   Turbulent Teen Years Linked to Adult Unemployment

              American Psychological Society

2016 –   Children's willpower linked to smoking habits throughout life

              Science Daily

2015 –   Hard Work or Hard Times?

              American Psychological Society


2015 –   Being able to control your emotions is essential for career success

              City A.M.


2015 –   Self-control is the most important skill a parent can teach their child

              Daily Mail (story shared 6,000 times)


2015 –   Hard Work, Hard Times: Self-control and Joblessness

              Huffington Post


2015 –   Self-control as a child determines future successes



2015 –   Learn self-control, stay off the dole

              Pacific Standard


2015 –   Self-control in childhood is linked to good career



2015 –   Childhood self-control linked to enhanced job prospects throughout life

              Science Daily & Medical Xpress


2015 –   Early self-control lifts job prospects

              The Herald


2015 –   Children with better self-control are less likely to be unemployed

              The Independent


2015 –   The power of self-control

              The Scotsman


2015 –   Kids with self-control grab better jobs

              Times of India & Economic Times



2015 -  Uberfact: Kids with high self-control are much more likely to find employment as adults, spending   

            40% less time unemployed than undisciplined peers.

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