As an adult, I don’t always feel it easy to delay instant gratification, which makes me wonder how difficult it would be for children, who don’t even quite understand the concept.
Recently in Psychological Science, however, researchers found that children are more willing to delay gratification for cooperative reasons than for individual goals. In another word, they show better self-control when they depend on each other.
The marshmallow experiment
The marshmallow experiment is a classical test on delayed gratification first applied in 1972. In the study, a child had two choices: 1) had the marshmallow or pretzel stick immediately, or 2) waited for a period of time and had two marshmallow or pretzel sticks. The researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and saw what the children chose.
In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the bigger reward tended to have better life outcomes, including SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures.
The modified version
In the study this time, the researchers paired up more than 200 children of 5 or 6, and divided them into two groups. For one group, each child worked as individuals and were told that they could have another cookie if waited for some time. for the other group, each pair of children were told that they could have another cookie each only if both of them could wait for a period of time.
To identify and cultural differences in the responses, the researchers tested children at a laboratory in Germany and went to schools in Kenya to test children of the Kikuyu tribe.
Across both conditions, Kikuyu children were more likely to delay gratification compared to their German counterparts. But across the two cultures, significantly more children held off on eating the first cookie in the interdependence condition compared with the solo condition.
This means that children can wait for a longer time when they have a partner to work with, or, “in a cooperative context,” according to one researcher.
Next time when you want to push your kid to do something that requires patience, why not have another kid work together with him/her? Maybe the result will make you surprise.