Imagine that we are children and they put us in front of a treat or a treat, they tell us how good it is and that we can eat it if we want to. However, the person offering it to us tells us that it has to go out for a while, and that if on our return we have not eaten it, he will give us another one in addition to the one already present. When the person leaves the room, we still have in front of the candy in question.
What do we do? Eat it now or wait and have a bigger reward later ?. This situation is the one used by Walter Mischel to observe the ability to delay gratification. in children. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into this important concept that goes a long way towards explaining many of our abilities and behaviors.
Delayed gratuity: what is it?
The term delays the graphic representation it refers to the ability of human beings to inhibit their behavior and their current appetites behind obtaining a benefit or more or more desirable benefit in the future. This is clearly related to motivation and goal setting.
While for the experience mentioned in the introduction this may seem like an unimportant concept, the truth is that it has great relevance in our lives. The ability to delay gratification it allows us to control our basic impulses and adapt our behavior to our goals and expectations.
Likewise, it has been shown to be positively correlated with better academic, professional and social performance, greater perceived efficiency and self-esteem, and better overall adaptation to the environment, an increase in our skills, of our self-esteem and our personal effectiveness. This allows us to manage ourselves and cope with crisis situations, Evaluate the pros and cons of taking an action and its consequences before taking it, deal with uncertainty and frustration, and make and follow plans.
Aspects that affect this ability
The delay in gratification it depends on the individual’s self-control, The ability to manage their cognitive and emotional resources.
Variables such as the timeframe for obtaining the highest prize, the value assigned to each of the reinforcers, the subject’s state of need or deprivation (if you are offered 1,000 euros today or 10,000 in three months, you will be able to take the first one if you need the money tomorrow) or the ability to physically or mentally move away from the reinforced present early on are very relevant in explaining whether or not the subject is able to wait. The same can be said that getting results after waiting is reliable or just a possibility.
It should also be noted that the delay in gratification is not only given in the face of physical stimuliBut this delay also shows up in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral elements (for example, not blowing up with someone who has infuriated us so as not to harm the relationship or handle the situation properly).
It should also be borne in mind that a subject will not always want to delay gratification, without having a lower delay capacity than those who decide to wait. For example, the result of the wait may not be appetizing for the subject, or the immediate reward may be satisfying enough (if with a treat I already satisfy my hunger, why do I want 2?).
Or on the contrary, a subject may wait because the initial stimulus is not appetizing enough all alone if it is not accompanied by more (it is not the same that they offer me 5 cents of twenty euros). This is why, when studying this phenomenon, it is necessary to take into account the different variables involved in order to be able to take into account whether the presence or absence of delay is due to the fact that the subject is capable of endure and manage theirs. pulses or failing them.
At the level of the brain
When thinking about the delay in gratification at the neurological level, it should be borne in mind that the existence of this ability is related to impulse control, the ability to make decisions, motivation and perception. pleasure and reward.
Thus, we will find that the frontal lobe has an important role in the delay or not of gratification: both behavior inhibition and decision making are related to the dorsolateral prefrontal, executive functions mediated by this. In fact, people with prefrontal lesions tend to have a lower ability to delay gratification because exhibit less behavioral inhibition.
Likewise, a link has also been found between this ability and the brain reward system (the nucleus accumbens and the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia and the limbic system are particularly important), elements related to the uptake of reinforcing or inhibiting value. . stimuli, emotion and motivation.
A trainable ability
Self-control and the ability to delay gratification, although they exist in both humans and other animals such as primates, do not develop from birth. In fact, in the same experiment that gave rise to the article, Mischel observed that as a general rule children under four could not delay the search for satisfaction. This is due in part to the lack of development of his frontal lobe, which does not reach its maximum level of development until adulthood.
Also, although there is an innate component, it has been observed that it is a skill that can be trained. For example, techniques can be taught to divert attention from the desired stimulus and delay its acquisition, to move away from the stimulation itself, or to assess the pros and cons before acting. Modeling can also be useful.
Educational practices and various treatment programs may cause children and adults with self-control issues (for example, a child who is hyperactive or with behavioral issues or a drug addict) to be more able to achieve delayed satisfaction. . The use of metaphors, self-instructions and exposure in the imagination can also help.
- Cloninger, S. (2002). Personality theories. Third edition. Pearson Education. Spain.
- Hernangómez, L. and Fernández, C. (2012). Personality and differential psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 07. CEDE: Madrid.
- Mischel, W .; Shoda, Y. and Rodriguez, ML (1992). Delayed gratification in children. In Lowenstein, G. and Elster, J. Choice With Time. Russell Sage Foundation. pages 147-64.