"These findings suggest that less-refined decision skills early in life could potentially be a harbinger for problem behaviour in the future," said Joshua Weller, an assistant professor at the Oregon State University in the US.

However, if poor decision-making patterns can be identified while children are still young, parents, educators and health professionals may have an opportunity to intervene and help those children enhance these skills, Weller added.

"This research underscores that decision-making is a skill and it can be taught," he said.

The study involved about 100 children. The researchers found that children who scored worse on the initial decision-making assessment were more likely to encounter behavioural problems a couple of years later.

The behaviour assessment included questions about emotional difficulties, conduct issues such as fighting or lying and problems with peers.

These kinds of behavioural issues are often linked to risky health behaviour among teens, including substance abuse or high-risk sexual activity, Weller noted.

"To our knowledge, this is the first research to suggest how decision-making competence is associated with future outcomes," Weller concluded.

The study appeared in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.