Delaying gratification is about worldview as much as willpower

Beliefs about others affect kids’ ability to resist temptation and wait for better rewards

Today at ScienceNews:

Willpower alone doesn’t explain why some children forgo a marshmallow in hand for the prospect of getting two gooey treats later. Kids’ beliefs about the reliability of the people around them, such as the trustworthiness of an experimenter, can dramatically shape their willingness to wait for a sweeter payoff, a new study finds.

Expectations about whether it’s best to grab goodies before they disappear or trust that bigger returns will come later are as important to delaying gratification as self-control, say psychologist Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester in New York and her colleagues.

“Our data suggest that it is premature to conclude that a child’s capacity for willpower is what determines his or her future success… Beliefs about the reliability of others’ behavior inform children’s decisions about whether to wait for a better reward.”

Children from stable families may reasonably assume that it’s worth it to wait for more treats in a lab task. Those kids are also more likely to succeed socially and academically later in life. Findings appear in a paper published online Oct. 9 in Cognition.

The team modified a procedure, called the marshmallow task, that was developed by psychologist Walter Mischel, now of Columbia University, in 1972.

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Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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