There is a large and growing body of extensive research regarding the benefits of high-quality early childhood programs across the lifespan, positively impacting multiple aspects of society. A recent study out of Vanderbilt University has revisited one of the earliest of these research studies to further understand why these benefits occur in the first place.

The HighScope Perry Preschool experiment was a randomized early childhood intervention conducted in the mid-1960’s to test the lifetime benefit of high-quality preschool by tracking the program’s attendees through age 40, collecting a wide range of psychological, achievement, and employment data as well as family and health outcomes and other measures. In 2010, Peter Savelyev, a Vanderbilt assistant professor of economics who studies the economics of human development, and co-authors including the Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist James Heckman established that the Perry Preschool Project provided a significant benefit to the attendees’ adult lives.

Savalyev’s more recent study links these successful adult outcomes to the behavioral skills attendees learned during the Perry Preschool program. While the Perry Project had only a temporary effect on IQ, the authors found that the preschool had durable effects on the children’s noncognitive skills. The children exhibited a significant reduction in externalizing behavior, including measurements of antisocial behaviors like lying, stealing, swearing or being aggressive or disruptive. The researchers say this positive impact “is the program’s most lasting and life-changing effect.”

Understanding the lifelong benefits of preschool is a helpful summary of these recent research findings. You can read the original research paper, as published in the October 2013 issue of American Economic Review, here: Understanding the Mechanisms Through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes.1

1Heckman, James, Rodrigo Pinto, and Peter Savelyev. 2013. “Understanding the Mechanisms through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes.” American Economic Review, 103(6): 2052-86.

This post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, at the Along Shady Lane blog, © 2014 Shady Lane, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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