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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: Could Learning to Wait at Age Four Predict Your Child's Future Success?

Thought for the Day: Here's a repost of a Psychology Trivia Question: 

               True or False
     Could learning to wait at age four predict your child's future success in life?

What do you think?

     The answer is True.  Learning to wait by age four can predict a child's future success. Walter Mischel,  professor of psychology at Stanford University ran an experiment in the late 60's to learn about preschool children's ability to delay gratification. His own children were students at the Bing Nursery School and participated in the study. 

In the experiment, four-year-olds were left alone, like a kid in a candy store with no adult watching, with a marshmallows or cookies in front of them. They were told they could either eat one of their preferred treats or have two if they waited until the researcher returned in 15 minutes.

Even though most of the children told the researcher they would wait, after struggling sometimes for just seconds, they often gave in, ate the treat or several treats before the researcher returned. The research looks like a "Candid Camera" TV segment, in which the children's struggles were videotaped. Those who managed to wait 15 minutes used tactics, like turning away or covering their eyes so that they would not see the treat and be tempted to steal from the plate. The original study gave insights into the development of willpower and self-discipline in young children. Mischel thought the study was complete and moved on to other research.

However, over the years Professor Mischel would ask his children how their friends from nursery school were doing, he thought there might be a pattern. On a hunch, he decided to take a second look at how the four year old participants were doing as they approached adulthood and conducted a follow-up study when the participants were in High School. The results were significant.  The children who at the age of four were able to wait and delay gratification were much less likely to become obese, have drug addiction or behavioral problems Since sweets, like marshmallows were the treats they needed to resist, these findings might be expected. However, as teens and later in life, the children who were able to delay gratification were also more successful in academics and had higher SAT scores. TIME reports that additional studies look at some of the participants in their 40's and found consistent results. 

The take-away for parents from this bit of significant psychology trivia is that it is important to teach your children to wait and to learn to delay gratification. It also has significant implications for children who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity). Since children with ADHD tend to be impulsive and have trouble learning to wait, parents, teachers and psychologists must advocate for early intervention to prevent the behavioral and academic problems associated with inability to delay gratification.

If you would like to read more about this study most of this was taken from the New Yorker Magazine from May 2009: DON’T! THE SECRET OF SELF -CONTROLBY JONAH LEHRER & September 2011 The Secrets of Self-Control: The Marshmallow Test 40 Years Later 

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