Control Yourself – Social Trust is Essential to Delay Gratification
In the famous Marshmallow Study conducted in the 1960’s, Professor Walter Mitchel of Stanford University discovered that some children had the ability to delay gratification. They waited to eat a treat (a marshmallow, a pretzel, a candy) in order to obtain a second treat. Some children gobbled up the treat, either unwilling or unable to display self control when presented with a tasty morsel. Scientists hypothesized that self control traits were inherent, and those with natural self control abilities went on to lead healthier, more successful lives than those children who lacked the ability to self control. Psychologists and social scientists realized that emotional intelligence and self control were more important to life success than IQ intelligence. Many people took this to mean that self control is a predetermined trait.
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 play 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. Professor Kidd was able to manipulate the degree of delayed gratification by introducing reliable and unreliable variables to their experiment. Kidd’s study clearly demonstrates that environment has as much impact on the ability to self control as innate ability. Children who had trust in the outcome waited on average four times longer than children put in unreliable situations. There has to be social trust (trust in people delivering future rewards as promised) for people to be willing to delay gratification in order to achieve a goal.
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 choose to grab what they can immediately, and not postpone gratification in the hopes of getting more. The lack of social trust in the family structure leads to juvenile delinquency, poor performance in school, and lack of economic opportunities. Simply put, weak cognitive self control plus deviant opportunity equals crime and other negative social outcomes. These children are more likely to have been exposed to drugs and alcohol while in the womb which can cause brain abnormalities linked to self control deficits. In a neglected environment, children do not learn self control skills from their parents or other adults. They may be physically abused, and thus lose control over their emotions. Studies have shown that the more environmental risk factors a child experiences, the more likely the child will exhibit a lack of self control. Sleep deprivation is another problem among the poor caused by many factors. Poor temperatures, hunger, crowded environments and stress can lead to sleep problems. Self control is impaired when a child does not get enough sleep.
A classic definition of weak cognitive self control includes impulsiveness, low frustration tolerance, self-centeredness, bullying behavior and risk taking behavior. Studies indicate that when parental discipline, nurturing and monitoring are absent, children are at a greater risk for weak cognitive self control. Parents who exhibit weak self control are those most likely to have children that exhibit weak self control. Proper parenting requires extensive effort, patience and consistent structure, not likely to be found in the homeless community. Studies indicate a significant link between low maternal self control and low child self control, as many of these families have absent fathers.
According to a study done by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) it was shown that parents or other important adults have a major impact on whether or not a child develops good cognitive self control. The parents set ground rules, provide structure and discipline, teach consequences, and provide adequate socialization for their children. They monitor their offspring and teach right from wrong. When four conditions are present (care, monitor, recognize, and correct) children learn to avoid situations with long term negative consequences. Studies have shown that all four conditions must be present for the child to learn self-control. There is also the contention that self control is stable once the child passes the ages of 8 or 10 years of age. Good children tend to remain good, while those lacking self control continue to be worrisome to parents and teachers, and could lead to juvenile delinquency. Therefore, the window of opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life occurs in early childhood. Any teacher can identify those children at risk. For example, if a child is disruptive in the classroom in second or third grade, he would be identified as a child who requires intervention to learn self control techniques. Parents would be brought into the discussion and taught the four conditions necessary for learning self control (care, monitor, recognize and correct), and work in conjunction with the teacher to establish ground rules to put the child on a positive path.
Children with the least amount of trust (absent fathers, homeless environments) are those that score the lowest in self control and delayed gratification, strengthening my hypothesis that trust and confidence are essential elements to be successful. These children had little faith that the adults would deliver on their promises, thus they live in unreliable worlds.
In the article Delaying Gratification Depends on Social Trust, researchers discovered a causal role in social trust in delaying gratification. Simply put, a person has to believe that a future reward will be delivered in return for delaying gratification. If the trust is absent, such as in negative experiences and environments, then the likelihood of self control drops significantly. The fact that the Marshmallow Study demonstrates that delaying gratification at 4 years of age is a predictor of a healthier, more successful future shows the importance of instilling social trust in at risk populations at a young age. Developing social trust that would encourage them to delay gratification in order to achieve a better future.
James Clear’s article 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely To Succeed supports the hypothesize that delaying gratification occurs when there is trust in the outcome. Children were given treats in both reliable and unreliable environments. If a child had no trust in getting that second treat, they were quick to eat the first treat. In a reliable environment, however, children were more willing to delay gratification to get that second treat. The results of the environment, negative or positive, were almost instantaneous. Delaying gratification can be learned and is influenced by trust and confidence in the outcome.
“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. 09 Nov. 2015.
“Delaying Gratification Depends on Social Trust.” Frontiers. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
“The Marshmallow Study Revisited.” : Rochester News. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.