A06: White Paper-palal24
Why Self Control Is Not A Predetermined Trait
Practice Opening 1
Self control is one of the most important traits that a person can possess in order to be successful in life. Imagine if you were confronted with the choice of going to a party or studying for a chemistry exam. You know that sacrificing your time to study and do well on the exam will go far in improving your chances for good grades, while partying may be fun in the short term but will do nothing to achieve your goals to get into medical school. Flash forward to medical school, were every day including weekends is a never ending repeat of sleep, study, eat and more study. During this time, you watch your friends sleep late, go out, have fun. You are aware, however, that the delaying gratification will result in a successful, respected career that fulfills you because it is ultimately your passion. Anything less would be a huge disappointment and you are focused on your goal. Doctors are masters at self control and delayed gratification; they could not become physicians without possessing these traits. Now imagine that there is a study that demonstrates that the traits of self control are evident as young as preschool, and that those children showing those traits are proven to be more successful adults than those not having those traits. For a period of time, social scientists believed that self control and delayed gratification were predetermined traits. Now imagine that a new study indicates the traits of self control and delayed gratification can be taught by improving the perception of trust in the outcome. This paper will analyze the ways in which experiences and environmental impact affects a person’s ability to self control, and ways we can use this knowledge to increase societal trustworthiness.
Practice Opening 2
Children unlucky enough to be born into poverty, or with absent fathers, have been proven to be less successful in life because they lack the ability to delay gratification. They almost always chose to grab what they can immediately, and not postpone gratification in the hopes of getting more. This lack of self control leads to juvenile delinquency, poor performance in school, and lack of economic opportunities. However, there is a study done by University of Rochester professors that challenge the inevitability of failure by this subset of children. The study indicates that the reason the children lack self control is not because of lack of unitary trait needed to succeed, but because of the lack of trust in the outcome of waiting. The study suggests that if societal trust is established in these children, they are more likely to learn self control and thus more likely to use desirable traits such as self control to succeed in life. This paper will analyze the hypothesize that self control is a situational trait that is determined through experiences and environmental impact, rather than a predetermined trait. Early interventions of at risk children (homeless, fatherless) could affect their ability to delay gratification.
The Marshmallow Study
For my research essay, I will be analyzing whether a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification is a result of experiences and environmental impact, rather than being a predetermined trait. Is self control a unitary quality, or is delayed gratification a situational trait? A very famous study (Marshmallow Study) by Stanford Professor Walter Mischel demonstrated that when preschool children were able to delay gratification by waiting to eat a treat, they grew up to be more successful adults than those children who did not have that level of self control. In this study, done in the 1960’s, Mischel gave the children a treat (a marshmallow, a cookie, a pretzel) and told the children that if they could wait 15 minutes to eat it, they would get an extra treat. After following the children to adulthood, researchers discovered that those children who demonstrated self control were healthier, had more success, and better grades than those children who immediately ate the treat. Psychologists and social scientists realized that emotional intelligence and self control were more important to life success than IQ intelligence.
The Marshmallow Study Revisited
However, a new study by Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester seems to challenge the assumption that exhibiting self control is a predetermined trait that leads to success. In her study, she found that trust and confidence in the results of waiting to receive the reward plays a significant role in a person’s ability to delay gratification. The children tested were able to make rational decisions on the probability of reward based on trust. Celeste Kidd was able to manipulate the degree of delayed gratification by introducing reliable and unreliable variables to their experiment. In several other studies I have researched, it becomes apparent to me that there has to be social trust (trust in people delivering future rewards as promised) in order for people to be willing to delay gratification in order to achieve a goal. There are also studies that indicate when a child has an absent father, or is homeless, there is a greater probability of a lack of self control.
Exactly How Does the Environment Affect Self Control
For several years, social scientists believed that self control was a predetermined trait, and that those children and adults possessing the trait led better, healthier and more successful lives. Celeste Kidd, a researcher at the University of Rochester, studied children who were homeless. She hypothesized that children coming from a poverty stricken environment were more likely to exhibit a lack of self control than their more fortunate counterparts. She decided to challenge the assumption that self control was an innate trait, and conducted her own version of the Marshmallow Study. Her conclusions were that children with absent fathers and homeless children had a lack of self control caused by their environment. They had the least amount of trust in the outcome because these children live in an unreliable world. To test her hypothesize, she created two groups, one with reliable experiences, and one with unreliable experiences. If a person made a promise and then delivered, the child was more likely to wait and have the capability to wait. If a person made a promise and broke it, the child had no reason to trust the environment and ate the marshmallow immediately. The effects of the environment were almost instantaneous.
Can Self Control Be Taught?
There is no argument that the ability to delay gratification is critical for life success. If everyone just did whatever they felt like doing, most people would not go to work, they would not do homework, and they would lack the self control necessary to provide for themselves and others. Stanford University published 40 years worth of research into how people can be taught self control. They believe there are four main ways to teach self control, and that self control is not an innate trait, but is influenced by life experiences and environment.
Social Trust Is Instrumental in Learning Self Control
People are less willing to wait for rewards if they are in an environment that lacks social trust. The question to be answered is whether early interventions of at-risk children (homeless, fatherless) and how providing trust and confidence will affect their ability to delay gratification. Social trustworthiness could improve behavior, and address juvenile crime and drug addiction in this population. Study after study indicates that participants are less willing to wait for rewards in people they deem untrustworthy.
Physiological Causes of Impulsiveness and Self Control
There are actual physical causes of whether or not a person has good self control naturally. Scientists have tracked brain waves in different people, and those who demonstrate good self control have significantly different patterns than those who do not. Scientists call this a “hot or cold” cognitive system. The hot system is impulsive and emotional. The cold system is cognitive in nature and reflective. People more prone to hot emotional triggers struggle with self control. It is fascinating that there is a neurological basis for the ability to delay gratification, and scientists are discovering strategies for people with naturally hot cognitive systems to cool down.
Working Hypothesis 1:
Self control is not an innate trait, and can be influenced by environment and experiences. This paper will analyze the ways in which experiences and environmental impact affects a person’s ability to self control, and ways we can use this knowledge to increase societal trustworthiness.
Working Hypothesis 2:
When a child has an absent father, or is homeless, there is a greater probability of a lack of self control.
Topics for Smaller Papers
IQ Intelligence vs. Self Control and Patience
Which would you choose? Being a natural genius but limited emotional intelligence, or having advanced emotional intelligence with a normal IQ?
A Hot/Cool Analysis and Delayed Gratification
This would be a more in-depth look at understanding the two different cognitive systems, and how they impact self control.
Current State of the Research Paper
I believe that self control is not an unitary trait and can be learned. Studies have demonstrated without a doubt that environment and lack of trust play an important role in whether or not a person can delay gratification. Since self control is a critical skill for health, success and a happy life, it is important that people learn and be taught these skills as early as preschool. In at risk populations such as the homeless, it is even more vital to have early intervention to increase societal trust. Perhaps saving even a percentage of these children from crime, drugs and poverty is worth the time and money invested.
I think the paper has been outlined, and I may add more as I continue my research in the following areas:
- How Societal Trust is currently being implemented in at risk communities.
- Strategies that are used in learning self control skills.
- Juvenile crime and the effects of environment, and possible solutions.
- Physiological reasons behind hot and cool cognitions.
As a college student, it is fascinating to me how many instances I see of self-control (and the lack of it) on campus.