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Those looking to predict a person's chance of success should start their investigation on the playground, research shows.
A new study by researchers at Concordia University revealed that a kid's friends may be the best judge of what the child will grow up to be like.
Specifically, the study found that a child's peer evaluations of their classmates' personalities can more accurately predict adulthood personality traits – which are associated with a number of important life factors, such as health, mental health and occupational satisfaction – than self-evaluation at that age.
The study, which began in 1976, asked students in grades 1, 4 and 7 to complete peer evaluations of their classmates and rate them in terms of aggression, likeability and social withdrawal. In addition, the students conducted their own self-evaluation.
The children were tracked into adulthood over the next 20 years. A follow-up survey was then conducted that included measurement of their personality traits as an adult, such as levels of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Alexa Martin-Storey, a recent Concordia graduate and one of the study's authors, said they were able to compare peer and self-perceptions of childhood behaviors with their adult personality characteristics.
"We found the evaluations from the group of peers were much more closely associated with eventual adult outcomes than were their own personality perceptions from childhood," Martin-Storey said. "This makes sense, since children are around their peers all day and behaviors like aggressiveness and likeability are extremely relevant in the school environment."
The research shows that children who perceived themselves as socially withdrawn exhibited less conscientiousness as adults, while kids whose peers perceived them as socially withdrawn grew up to exhibit lower levels of extraversion.
Martin-Storey said peer-perceived likeability also predicted a more accurate outcome, associating the personality trait with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness and lower levels of neuroticism than those who thought of themselves as likeable.
"The information from our study could be used to promote better longitudinal outcomes for children by helping kids and parents develop effective mechanisms for addressing aggressive or socially withdrawn behaviors and promoting more pro-social behavior," said Lisa Serbin of the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and one of the study's co-authors.