You want to buy that Kindle, but you are thinking maybe you should wait for a while. Maybe you should see if the price comes down after the holiday shopping season, or maybe you should make sure that you have enough cash to pay all of your credit card bills before you spend money on a new gadget for yourself. Do you wait or not?
Whether you are the type of person who can delay gratification or whether you aren’t, chances are high that you’ve been this way (a delayer or not a delayer) since you were a young child.
Here is one of my favorite psychology research videos. Watch these little kids decide whether to eat the one marshmallow that is put in front of them, or wait and thereby get 2 marshmallows:
The original research from the 1960’s — — Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Walter Mischel began conducting a series of studies similar to the video. He was interested in the idea of delayed gratification. Years later he decided to follow up with the original people in his study. He found that when the people in the study who were able to delay gratification became teenagers, they were more successful in school, received higher test scores on the SAT, and were better able to cope with stress and frustration. He’s followed them even further into adulthood and the differences continue. The children in the original studies that could not delay gratification as pre-schoolers, were more likely to have problems as adults, including drug abuse.
Waiting for the fMRI studies — Jonah Lehrer recently wrote in the New Yorker that Ozlem Ayduk from UC Berkeley is having these same “children” (who are now adults) come back to the lab. The researchers are using fMRI brain imaging to get a better look at the parts of the brain that are active in delayed gratification.
Any hope for the people who can’t wait? — Mischel is supposedly working on tools and techniques that can be taught to the people who don’t/can’t delay gratification. Apparently it is possible to teach people to distract themselves enough so they can wait.
In the meantime, maybe you should buy that Kindle so you’ll be ready to read the research?
Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26(6), 978–986.
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