Control Yourself – Social Trust is Essential to Delay Gratification
Acquiring self control skills will lead to greater success in the classroom, and in life. Self control is one of the most important traits that a person can possess in order to be successful. Self regulation is defined as a cognitive skill that enables mindful, intentional and thoughtful behavior. It involves the ability to control impulses, such as not drinking alcohol the night before class. It also involves the capacity to do something because it is needed. Imagine if a student is confronted with the choice of going to a party or studying for a chemistry exam. The student knows that sacrificing time to study and do well on the exam will go far in improving the chances for good grades, while partying may be fun in the short term but will do nothing to achieve the goal to get into medical school. Flash forward to medical school, where every day including weekends is a never ending repeat of sleep, study, eat and more study. During this time, the student watches friends sleep late, go out, have fun. The student is aware, however, that the delaying gratification will result in a successful, respected career. Anything less would be a huge disappointment and the student is focused on the goal. Doctors are masters at self control and delayed gratification. They could not become physicians without possessing these traits. I argue that a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification is not a predetermined trait, but a result of experiences and environmental impact. Self control can be learned as long as there is trust in the outcome.
A very famous study (Marshmallow Study) by Stanford Professor Walter Mischel found 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.
However, a recent study by Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester challenges the assumption that self control is a predetermined trait. 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. For example, the first group of children were given a box of crayons, and then stickers, and promised bigger boxes, but these boxes never came. This was the unreliable experience. The second group of children were promised the boxes and then received them. This was the reliable experience. Both groups of children were then offered the marshmallow test. The results of the study were conclusive and strong. Children who had trust in the outcome that they would receive their second treat waited four times longer – 12 minutes versus 3 minutes – than those children who were in unreliable situations. Clearly, children inherit different temperaments and show different behaviors from birth. This study demonstrates, however, that children can make rational decisions based on the environment, and that even the child with natural self restraint will eat the treat immediately if it appears unlikely that they will receive another one later. The children in the reliable environment learned that waiting for the treat works, and they had the ability to wait.
In the article 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely To Succeed, author James Clear cites Celeste Kidd’s research as proof that environment and trust affect a person’s ability to self control. If there is a goal to be reached, then self discipline and delayed gratification are required, and self control can be learned. The secret is to start small and deliver on it. For example, I know that going to the gym and exercising is good for my health and mental wellbeing, but it is so much easier to stay snuggled in my bed, or go out to eat with friends. So I used some of the tips I learned during my research to teach myself to delay gratification.
- Start Small. Make it so easy you can’t say no. I promised to exercise one time every week. Soon I was exercising three times a week.
- Improve Something by 1%. Every day. I do one more rep, or stay 5 minutes longer, or eat one less chicken nugget meal.
- Consistency. I mark off every day on my wall calendar with a big X and see how far I’ve come. It helps me bounce back from a bad day.
- The 2 Minute Rule. Don’t procrastinate. Spend 2 minutes on that paper, or homework, or reading that book, or eating that piece of fruit. It’s easier to finish once you get started.
The result is that I have avoided the dreaded “Freshman 15” and I feel healthier. Most importantly, I learned I had the ability to self control, which reinforces my position that self control can be learned and applied. Obviously, I had trust that the outcome would be a healthier, happier me.
To further strengthen my argument, a causal relationship has been found between trust and delaying gratification. A 2013 joint study by researchers from the University of Colorado and Boston University, led by Laura Michaelson, provides the first demonstration of a causal role of social trust in delaying gratification. The researchers manipulated trust while avoiding manipulating of rewards establishing the causal relationship. The study found that participants dealing with untrustworthy characters were 33% less likely to wait a week for a reward than those participants dealing with trustworthy characters. Clearly, there is an assumption of a future reward in order to do something undesired or unwanted to get that future reward. If the trust in the outcome is non-existent, such as in the homeless community as a whole, then impulsive behavior is more likely. After all, why wait for a reward that you never received in the past? This study emphasizes the role of social trust in the ability to self control, and that delaying gratification does not occur in a social vacuum. It suggests that certain populations such as criminals, youth and homeless might struggle because of their lack of trust that reward will be delivered, and that implementing social trust may address some of the struggles.
“The Marshmallow Study Revisited.” : Rochester News. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
Gannon, By Megan. “Twist on ‘Marshmallow Test’ Shows Environment Affects Self-Control.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
“40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed.” 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.