For my research essay, I will be analyzing whether a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification is a result of experiences and environmental impact, rather than being a predetermined trait. Is self control a unitary quality, or is delayed gratification a situational trait? A very famous study (Marshmallow Study) by Stanford Professor Walter Mischel demonstrated that when preschool children were able to delay gratification by waiting to eat a treat, they grew up to be more successful adults than those children who did not have that level of self control. In this study, done in the 1960’s, Mischel gave the children a treat (a marshmallow, a cookie, a pretzel) and told the children that if they could wait 15 minutes to eat it, they would get an extra treat. After following the children to adulthood, researchers discovered that those children who demonstrated self control were healthier, had more success, and better grades than those children who immediately ate the treat. Psychologists and social scientists realized that emotional intelligence and self control were more important to life success than IQ intelligence.

However, a new study by Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester seems to challenge the assumption that exhibiting self control is a predetermined trait that leads to success. In her study, she found that trust and confidence in the results of waiting to receive the reward plays a significant role in a person’s ability to delay gratification. The children tested were able to make rational decisions on the probability of reward based on trust. Celeste Kidd was able to manipulate the degree of delayed gratification by introducing reliable and unreliable variables to their experiment.  In several other studies I have researched, it becomes apparent to me that there has to be social trust (trust in people delivering future rewards as promised) in order for people to be willing to delay gratification in order to achieve a goal. There are also studies that indicate when a child has an absent father, or is homeless, there is a greater probability of a lack of self control.

  1. The Marshmallow Study Revisited

Background: This article discusses the methodology and results of Celeste Kidd’s reinvention of the Marshmallow Study. It demonstrates how children were able to make rational decisions based on the probability of reward.

How I Intend To Use It: This article helps to reinforce my hypothesis that experiences and environmental impact have significant impact on a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification. It also demonstrated how self control can be taught to children by enabling their trust in the future outcome.

  1. Twist on “Marshmallow Test” Shows Environment Affects Self Control

Background: This article discusses the role of trust versus innate self control. It discusses the origin of Kidd’s decision to study the Marshmallow Test (she was at a homeless shelter and knew that the children there would have no self control because of the environment). It also discusses how children with absent fathers scored the lowest in self control.

How I Intend to Use it: It is fascinating that those children with the least amount of trust (absent fathers, homeless environments) are those that score the lowest in self control and delayed gratification, strengthening my hypothesis that trust and confidence are essential beliefs to be successful. These children had little faith that the adults would deliver on their promises, thus they live in unreliable worlds.

  1. 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely To Succeed

Background: This article discusses the Marshmallow Study and the subsequent Kidd Study and states that the ability to delay gratification is critical for success in life. This article states that delaying gratification and self control can be learned and applied.

How I Intend To Use It: This article has four main ways to teach self control, which I intend to analyze in my research paper. It also reinforces my theory that self control is not an innate trait, and can be influenced by environment and experiences.

  1. Delaying Gratification Depends on Social Trust

Background: This article analyzes that impact of social trust on self control and delaying gratification. The scientists conclude that people are less willing to wait for rewards when dealing with others they consider untrustworthy.

How I Intend To Use It: This study raises the questions whether early interventions of at risk children (homeless, fatherless) and how providing trust and confidence will affect their ability to delay gratification. Social trustworthiness could address juvenile crime and drug addiction and improve behavior.

  1. Delaying Gratification

Background: This article discusses why self control succeeds or fails through a “hot or cold” system. The cool system is cognitive in nature , and reflective. The hot system is impulsive and emotional. The article talks about brain activity and that people with low self control had different brain patterns than people with high self control. It discusses how some people are more prone to hot emotional triggers.

How I Intend To Use It: This article has a neurological basis for the ability to delay gratification which I find very interesting. It also discusses whether or not delaying gratification can be taught, whether or not a person’s cognitive nature is cool or hot.

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7 Responses to Proposal+5—Palal24

  1. palal24 says:

    Practice Opening 1
    Self control is one of the most important traits that a person can possess in order to be successful in life. Imagine if you were confronted with the choice of going to a party or studying for a chemistry exam. You know that sacrificing your time to study and do well on the exam will go far in improving your chances for good grades, while partying may be fun in the short term but will do nothing to achieve your goals to get into medical school. Flash forward to medical school, were every day including weekends is a never ending repeat of sleep, study, eat and more study. During this time, you watch your friends sleep late, go out, have fun. You are aware, however, that the delaying gratification will result in a successful, respected career that fulfills you because it is ultimately your passion. Anything less would be a huge disappointment and you are focused on your goal. Doctors are masters at self control and delayed gratification; they could not become physicians without possessing these traits. Now imagine that there is a study that demonstrates that the traits of self control are evident as young as preschool, and that those children showing those traits are proven to be more successful adults than those not having those traits. For a period of time, social scientists believed that self control and delayed gratification were predetermined traits. Now imagine that a new study indicates the traits of self control and delayed gratification can be taught by improving the perception of trust in the outcome. This paper will analyze the ways in which experiences and environmental impact affects a person’s ability to self control, and ways we can use this knowledge to increase societal trustworthiness.

    Practice Opening 2
    Children unlucky enough to be born into poverty, or with absent fathers, have been proven to be less successful in life because they lack the ability of delayed gratification. They almost always chose to grab what they can immediately, and not postpone gratification in the hopes of getting more. This lack of self control leads to juvenile delinquency, poor performance in school, and lack of economic opportunities. However, there is a study done by University of Rochester professors that challenge the inevitability of failure by this subset of children. The study indicates that the reason the children lack self control is not because of lack of unitary trait needed to succeed, but because of the lack of trust in the outcome of waiting. The study suggests that if societal trust is established in these children, they are more likely to learn self control and thus more likely to use desirable traits such as self control to succeed in life. This paper will analyze the hypothesize that self control is a situational trait that is determined through experiences and environmental impact, rather than a predetermined trait. Early interventions of at risk children (homeless, fatherless) could affect their ability to delay gratification.


    • davidbdale says:

      Opening 1.
      You ask us to do a lot of imagining in this long opening paragraph, palal. I wonder why. It has the very negative effect of forcing you to address readers repeatedly in the BANNED 2ND PERSON. I think we could eliminate almost the entire first scenario and the 2nd-person address, and get to the point of your important argument without losing our readers’ attention.

      We all know we should prepare for work or school on weeknights, but some of us find it impossible to resist partying with friends for Monday Night Football. We also know that those who can resist are more likely to finish med school. But what’s surprising is WHY some of us can resist temptation and others cannot. Those who fail aren’t necessarily weak; we’ve just been trained to distrust the system.

      Opening 2
      My primary contribution to this version will be to suggest, if I haven’t already done so, that what we commonly describe as a “lack of self control” might not be a lack of anything. If every time we put away some food to eat over the winter a neighbor steals our food and we go hungry, we don’t “lack self control” when we gorge on what we have; we’ve made a conscious intelligent choice to make the best of a risky situation. To do so demonstrates “emotional intelligence” as well as “practical intelligence,” it seems to me. Kids learn these lessons early.

      Reply, please.


      • palal24 says:

        I eliminated the dreaded second person tense from my essay 🙂 My research concludes that children possess the cognitive skills to make practical choices based on environment and trust. I appreciate your comments and guidance. It is definitely helpful..


  2. davidbdale says:

    In your very capable long first paragraph, the first question I have is toward the end, where you pass along a conclusion of the psychologists, that “emotional intelligence” is more important to life success than IQ intelligence. This equates “the decision to wait fifteen minutes for a promised reward” with “emotional intelligence.” That’s a very broad conclusion, one I don’t think we can simply accept. I can’t tell if you accept it or not, but I hope it’s the question at the very center of your argument. Is it? Reply, please.

    In your second paragraph you question whether “self control” is predetermined, which is a fair question, different from mine. We can question both, 1) whether it’s predetermined, and 2) whether it’s actually intelligence.

    Obviously, in a system that rewards patience, it would be wise to be patient. But your argument appears willing to consider that the kids being studied may have learned to be suspicious of the value of trusting what others promise. For them, “emotional intelligence” might mean “facing the fact that promises are often broken.”

    We’re on the same page here, palal. I just want you to be careful what you classify as intelligence.

    Source 1.
    Here’s that bugaboo again:

    This article helps to reinforce my hypothesis that experiences and environmental impact have significant impact on a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification.

    “ability to exhibit self-control” may be the wrong question. For those who distrust authority, the “ability to make the best use of the present” is a conscious choice. They’re not UNABLE to exhibit self-control; they have calculated that it’s a bad risk.

    Source 2.
    You don’t need to follow these kids through life to prove your thesis, palal. You said you wanted to investigate

    whether a person’s ability to exhibit self control and delayed gratification is a result of experiences and environmental impact, rather than being a predetermined trait

    That can be demonstrated at the time of the Marshmallow Test, by looking BACKWARDS into the child’s past. How they behave in later life might prove whether self-control is USEFUL, but it won’t demonstrate that it was INNATE or that it was LEARNED.

    Reply, please.


  3. palal24 says:

    Thank your for the very helpful comments. I agree that emotional intelligence is important for success in life, whether it be social, work, or academic. What a child KNOWS, from environment and background, determines what choices are made. The Rochester University study shows that, as well as other recent studies linking trust with delaying gratification. The Marshmallow Study looked at a group of children who came from privileged backgrounds. The Rochester Study looked at children from diverse backgrounds, including homeless children. Children who are in an environment of trust are more likely to delay gratification than those who are in unreliable environments. I think we are on the same page, too!


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