What is self-control & delay of gratification?


Does resisting a marshmallow at age 4 predict self-control 40 years later?


A follow-up study of people who took part in the original marshmallow study was conducted by Casey (2011); Casey used a go/no-go task in hot (faces were emotional – fear or disgust) and cool condition (neutral faces).


Participants were asked to press a button when they were shown a predetermined target – so either a fearful face or a disgusted face. The results of this study showed that low delayers (children who ate the marshmallow at age 4) were worse at the go/no-go task in the hot (emotional) condition, but they were about the same as high delayers (those who could resist the marshmallow at age 4) in the cool condition (neutral).


The low delayers also showed higher activity in the ventral striatum (the part of the brain associated with rewards), while completing the go/no-go tasks, whereas high delayers showed greater activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (the area of the brain associated with impulse control).


In terms of self-control as part of the psychological basis of the self, this study suggests it is innate, and will stay relatively stable during someone’s lifespan. However, by using training strategies, anyone can learn to delay gratification.


Key Definitions:

Marshmallow study DEF: The Stanford marshmallow study an experiment on delaying gratification led by Walter Mischel

Go/no-go task DEF: Go/no-go tasks refers to a pass/fail test, passed when the ‘go’ condition is met and the ‘no-go’ condition is not.


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