Child’s Ability to Delay Gratification is a Predictor of Future Success

on Saturday, March 5, 2011

In the late 1960s, Stanford University conducted an experiment on young childrens' self-control and ability to delay gratification. Researchers would give young children a choice: the child could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if he or she was willing to wait while the researcher stepped out of the room for a few minutes, the child could have two marshmallows when the researcher returned. If the children rang a bell on the desk the researcher would come running back, and the child could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second.

Most of the children struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than three minutes. About 30% of the children successfully delayed gratification until the researcher returned, some fifteen minutes later. These kids wrestled with temptation but found a way to resist.

An analysis of the results showed that the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, 210 points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds. Read more at the New Yorker