The ability to delay gratification is important in any well-functioning society. Can it be fostered with little frustration? Western culture evolves towards a cult of ‘immediate gratification.’ Is this healthy?
In a 1960s experiment at Stanford, a number of kids got one marshmallow and could get three if the child wouldn’t eat the one while the experimenter went away for 5 minutes (delaying gratification).
Forward 40 years. Those who delayed, got on average better high school results, had more social success and resilience, were less aggressive. Fewer of them were obese or drug addicts, etc.
Nice story. Of course, it’s more complicated.
Did the parents have lasting influence on ‘delaying’? The story’s correlation is not so much between the outcomes and just that one little test, as being related to the whole surroundings. Overall, it tells us little about the influence on further development of proneness to delay. Still, it’s intriguing.
What is the influence of (negative) frustration upon the (positive) effects of delayed gratification?
Let’s at least agree that the ‘negative’ and the ‘positive’ are correctly put in the previous sentence. Then I think the influence is indeed negative. In such case, next question: is delayed gratification possible without frustration?
I guess so. I even frequently use the specific term ‘frustration-less desire’ with only this little difference: ‘delayed’ shows an expectation that eventually there will be a gratification. The reward will follow. Neurochemically, dopamine does flow when the reward comes into the picture, real or imaginary. Without expectation, no dopamine, thus no related pleasure.
Does this delaying make it easier or harder?
It may largely depend on circumstances. Which is interesting because then we can titrate these circumstances in order to investigate the influence on results.
So, how to facilitate delaying without frustration? Some ‘marshmallow ideas’:
- Get the child on board not in an ‘I-thou’ relation but an equal-value ‘us’ with naturally shared goal.
- Acknowledge ‘frustration’ without emphasis: “If you will have eaten the one marshmallow, I will not mention anymore the ones you won’t get.”
- Ask what the child might do as a strategy to delay gratification.
- Ask the child to imagine the three, or already show them.
- Make sure the child knows what ‘5 minutes’ is like.
Another example: breastfeeding
This can be given in a kind of (negative) immediate gratification.
According to me – male nitwit – best thing to do is to not delay… and also to not-not delay. An always-immediate gratification quickly becomes an automatism to the baby and leaves no room for communication… while communication is the key. Eye contact and a smile may sooth the baby a bit and ever more as confidence is gained.
This is of course very much about education in general
as we saw in the 40-years-later results from the marshmallow kids. This is about how parents, teachers… can handle the kid’s delayed gratification in order to attain such positive results. Important enough!
There is also a very modern warning in this:
Computer games are very much bent on the opposite, being ‘immediate gratification’.
There’s even a whole specific industry centered on gamification, not only in computer games, but much broader. Without surprise, the marketing world is loving this: how to make people buy more stuff through gamification. But what is the influence of ubiquitous gamification upon the poor customers, say, probably all of us? Do people still learn to ‘delay’ anything? What’s the impact upon a whole culture?
Remember, in ancient Rome, ‘gamification’ went huge before the downfall…