By Y K Gupta Updated on April 15, 2020
Can delayed gratification be learned? Or is it a skill which some people inherit or are naturally blessed?
In my article Power of Self Restraint: the Marshmallow Test, I have discussed about the benefits of delayed gratification and how it plays a prominent role in your future success.
And in this article we will try to figure out whether we can learn delayed gratification? And the research says that, you can learn to delay your gratification in exchange of bigger rewards.
Marshmallow test is silent about whether delayed gratification be learned or not but establishes that –
- The children who can delay gratification in their childhood are more successful in their lives on various parameters.
- They can cope with stress much better.
- Further, divorce rate among such people is less.
- They get better grades in school.
- They score better in SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test or Scholastic Aptitude Test).
- Maintain a better BMI (Body Mass Index).
- Are earning more and
- Are on higher positions in their jobs.
However, the original Marshmallow Test didn’t answer a very important question. And the question is whether or not skill of delayed gratification be learned or is it only innate and inherited.
But a later study answers these questions. The results of this study establish that delayed gratification can be learned. And results vary dramatically depending upon the environment to which the children are exposed to.
The children who were exposed to unreliable environment display lesser ability to delay gratification
In the study children were divided in two groups, in the first group, children were given a task of decorating a paper with crayons and then put that paper in the cup provided to each of them.
They were provided with the used crayons in small boxes. But instructor promised that children will be provided with the new big boxes of crayons if they waited for some time.
After some time, instructor came back and declared that she is sorry. She has no new crayons in store and asks children to use the old used crayons available with them.
Again, the same group of children was provided with a small sticker and was promised that if they wait for a little while then they will be provided with bigger stickers with more designs to choose from.
After sometime, instructor came back in the room and declared that she has none to deliver.
The children who were exposed to reliable environment could delay gratification four times more compared to children who were exposed to unreliable environment
The second group was also given the same task. And the children in second group were also promised to get better crayons. The promise was kept and the instructor came back after some time and provided them a new big box of crayons.
And second time also they were delivered with beautiful bigger stickers with many designs to choose from as a reward of their waiting for the same, as they were promised.
And then the Marshmallow Test was conducted on these children to find out whether delayed gratification be learned
After that researchers conducted the marshmallow test on these children and the results were eye opener.
Children who were exposed to unreliable environment just before the marshmallow test could wait for only three minutes on an average and then ate the dessert.
While on the other hand children who were exposed to reliable environment just before the marshmallow test could wait…..any wild guess? Well, for full 12 minutes. And this is four times more than the group of children who was exposed to unreliable experience.
The results of this experiment clearly answers the question whether delayed gratification be learned?
Well, the learning is very pronounced. In addition to the innate or inherited qualities of your child, his environment also plays a very vital role in developing his skills of delaying gratification.
In this test, the children in the first group had no reason to believe their instructors that they will be rewarded with twice of the cookies. And this lack of conviction was due to their unreliable experience with their instructor.
This unreliable experience has affected their skill to delay gratification so badly that they succumbed to the temptation of immediate gratification just after a waiting period of three minutes.
While the children in the other group had every reason to believe that like their earlier experience they will now again be rewarded as promised.
And therefore, they could wait for 12 minutes, four times more compared to the children who were exposed to unreliable experience.
Learning for the parents, teachers and elders
So, the very loud and clear message from this study for the parents, teachers and elders is that it is your responsibility to provide a reliable environment to your children.
The ability of your child to delay gratification is not entirely dependent on his innate nature. But it is more of a learnt behavior. Which your child learns from the environment, he is exposed to.
And your responsibility is to provide your children reliable environment in which they can flourish.
Further, this study also proves that children take rational decisions. There might be some circumstances in the life where delaying gratification can’t be the right choice for you. This study also highlights this fact.
The children in the first group took the decision of going for the immediate gratification. They took this decision because they were exposed to unreliable environment. And conditioned by the past unreliable experience, going for the immediate gratification was the rational choice for them.
So your responsibility and learning from these two studies is that-
- In certain circumstances going for the immediate gratification can be the right choice for you.
- You should expose your children to reliable environment as far as possible.
- Further, you should also learn to apply discretion. That is in what circumstances it is better to go for immediate gratification and also impart this knowledge to your children.
- However, if environment is reliable then delayed gratification is the best choice for you and results in more successful and fulfilling life.
To sum up, whatsoever might have been the results of the studies. The take away is that if you want to be successful you have to choose the delayed gratification of discipline of practice over the immediate gratification of watching TV.
In the same manner, your child has to take the hard decision of delaying gratification by doing his home work over the immediate gratification of watching cartoon films.
I wish you and your children disciplined, successful and fulfilling life!
Y K Gupta