Toddlers who are better at concentrating, taking directions and persisting with a game even after hitting difficulties have a 50 per cent greater chance of getting a degree when older, a two-decade long experiment found.
The study (Relations between preschool attention span-persistence ..) tracked 430 kids from pre-school to 21-years-old, monitoring academic and social development, behavioural skills and behaviour at home and in the classroom.
Parents were asked to watch how long the children would play with one particular toy while at home, while teachers were instructed to give the class a task and then monitor which toddlers gave up and which ones kept persevering until they had completed it.
Results of the study by Oregon State University were published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
The children most likely to go through further education were those who, at an early age, persisted in tasks and paid attention in pre-school sessions, said researchers.
Researchers said these are qualities that both parents and teachers can easily teach youngsters.
She said: "There is a big push now to teach children early academic skills at the pre-school level.
"Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn't maths or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age four."
The pre-school research included seeing how long children would play with a single toy or how easily they would give up when they reached difficulties in a task.