Remember the marshmallow test? Stanford University researchers in the early 1960s offered young children a choice between one sweet treat they could immediately eat, or two they could enjoy after a short wait. They found those who took the second option ultimately got higher test scores, and generally had more successful lives.
That ability to delay gratification is usually described as an internal trait, perhaps enhanced by proper parenting. But new research suggests another element is also at play.
It reports kids faced with this now-or-later dilemma are strongly influenced by their peers’ pattern of behavior.
In two experiments, “young children were more likely to delay gratification and value it when their group delayed, and another group did not,” report University of Colorado–Boulder psychologists Sabine Doebel and Yuko Munakata. That suggests this crucial capacity is influenced not just by one’s inner strength, but also by group values.
In the journal Psychological Science, the researchers describe two studies featuring preschoolers. In the first, 90 three- and four-year-olds were randomly assigned to either the “green group” or the “orange group.” They wore T-shirts in their group’s color, and were shown photos of fellow group members.
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