The friendly child who toddles up to you out of the blue and starts talking may do better in school than the one hiding behind his mother, according to a study in the April Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 82, No. 4).
Adrian Raine of the University of Southern California, and three co-authors, examined the intellectual and cognitive abilities of 1,795 children from two towns on the island of Mauritius. They found that children who physically explored their surroundings and sought out social interaction at age 3 had better grades and higher scores on cognitive and neuropsychological tests at age 11, including better reading skills and total IQ scores 12 points higher than low stimulation seekers.
The researchers measured the children's willingness to move away from a parent to investigate a new toy or speak with unfamiliar adults, as well as levels of active social play with other children. They also tested cognitive abilities such as identification and classification of objects, copying abilities and comprehension of number, size and length concepts.
Gender, ethnicity or parents' education level or occupation did not affect the positive association between stimulation-seeking and cognitive ability. Even extreme stimulation seekers, who are usually viewed as pathological, had better test scores.
The researchers suggest that youngsters who seek stimulation "create for themselves an enriched, stimulating, varied and challenging environment," and this environment, in turn, boosts their cognitive abilities and school performance. Social involvement, rather than physical stimulation, may be the critical factor, since the social components of stimulation-seeking, such as speaking to strangers, were better predictors of cognitive ability than the physical components.
However, this study does not address the question of "whether stimulation seekers at age 3 are more likely to develop sensation-seeking personalities in adulthood."
These results suggest several avenues of further research, the authors note. First, do these results apply to Western children as well as Mauritian children? Second, if children who are not naturally stimulation-seekers are encouraged to develop these behaviors, will their cognitive abilities be enhanced as well?