When I was about 7 years old my mother tested me, by asking me what I would like to do with the last piece of chocolate cake and I surprised her by saying I would chop it in half and we would have half each. She was touched by this answer, so she let me have the whole slice. I then broke it in half and ate the dry bit first and the creamy bit second, which is what I usually did…So maybe I was quite good at delaying gratification? Obviously it would be more complicated now, as I would have to choose between the slice of chocolate cake or getting into my jeans! Researchers think this is partly to do with our genes i.e. how much self-control we have….
For the past four decades, the “marshmallow test” has served as a classic experimental measure of children’s self-control: will a child eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later? This behavioural experiment was first carried out in the 60s at Stanford Uni, in the USA, by the psychologist Mischel and colleagues. Over a period of time following the children into adulthood, they found that the ones who delayed gratification were often more successful in their lives – better at passing exams etc and the men were probably better lovers! They have repeated the tests recently and found that it is not just down to the children’s personality traits, but also down to the environment i.e. the children who were in the group with reliable researchers who kept their promises were able to hold out for 9 mins longer than the ones who had been let down….therefore as parents we should be consistent with our children.
The funniest part of the experiments, I found, were the activities the children did while waiting: dancing, singing, napping, drawing and even sitting on the marshmallow. so that it was out of sight! Which is why I don’t keep chocolate cake in the house, unless it’s my birthday!