September 29, 2022

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 public domain

For decades, studies have shown that children who can resist temptation — choosing to wait for two marshmallows later rather than having one now — tend to perform better in terms of health and success later in life. .


But 50 years after the groundbreaking “marshmallow test” suggested this, a fresh, multicultural approach to the test adds a missing piece of the story: What kids want to wait for depends largely on their cultural upbringing.

The CU Boulder-led study, published in the journal psychological sciencefound that children in Kyoto, Japan, waited three times longer for food than gifts, while children in Boulder, Colorado, waited almost four times longer for gifts than food.

“We found that the ability to delay gratification, which predicts many important life outcomes, has to do not only with variations in genes or brain development, but also with habits supported by culture,” said senior author Yuko Munakata, a research affiliate at the Psychology Department. and neuroscience at CU Boulder.

The findings provide good news for parents, showing that instilling simple, culturally appropriate habits in young children can influence their development in ways that make it easier for them to delay gratification later on.

But it also questions decades of social science research, suggesting that some children who were supposed to lack self-control instead simply had different cultural values ​​in waiting.

“It begs the question: How many of our scientific conclusions are shaped by the cultural lens that we, as researchers, bring to work?” said Munakata.

See also  Manuka honey may help clear deadly drug-resistant lung infection, study suggests

Marshmallow test redux

The marshmallow test, first performed in the early 1970s by psychologist Walter Mischel, worked like this: A preschooler was placed in a room with a marshmallow, told they could eat the marshmallow now or wait, and later getting two, then being left alone as the clock ticked and a video camera rolled.

While the research is mixed, many studies have found that preschoolers who waited longer performed better on academic test scores, were less likely to exhibit problem behaviors, and had a healthier body mass index and better relationships later in life. Some studies also showed that the same subjects were less likely to end up in prison and made more money.

Early on, researchers focused on inherent and cognitive explanations.

“There was the idea that some kids just have more self-control, and some kids have less,” said Munakata, now also a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis.

Munakata, who is of Japanese descent but grew up in the US, came up with the idea for the new study during a sabbatical in Kyoto. On the first day of school, when her two young children tore into their lunch boxes, their peers quickly straightened them out and told them that in Japan, no one ate until everyone sat down.

In contrast, while her children were used to waiting to open their presents on birthdays and Christmas, their Japanese peers tended to open them the moment they received them, whether the giver was present or not.

To what extent does culture influence what we wait for?

See also  Why Australia’s Climate Bill Matters

To find out, she worked with Professor Satoru Saito at the Graduate School of Education in Japan and Kaichi Yanaoka, then a graduate student at the University of Tokyo.

They recruited 144 children from Boulder and Kyoto, each of whom was randomly assigned to a test involving a marshmallow or a wrapped gift. Researchers and parents watched via a video feed.

“One counted the dots on the ceiling, another signed his name on the desk. Another paced the room,” said study co-author Grace Dostart, a professional research assistant at the Renée Crown Wellness Institute who helped conduct the study. Boulder study.

“It was fascinating to see what calming techniques these kids were engaging in.”

The power of politeness

The kids in Japan were overwhelmingly better at waiting for the marshmallow, with an average wait of 15 minutes.

“If we had just looked at their behavior with the candies, it would have looked like Japanese children have better self-control,” Munakata said. “But that wasn’t the end of the story.”

In Japan, children waited less than five minutes to open the gift.

The reverse was true in the US, with children waiting nearly 15 minutes to open the present versus less than four to eat the marshmallow.

In particular, children who were in the habit of waiting for meals at home and elsewhere waited longer to eat the marshmallow. And across cultures, children who were more attuned to social conventions (as measured by surveys of children) waited longer.

“This suggests that the way you grow up, the social conventions you were raised with, and how much you spend on them are all important,” Dostart said.

See also  Aboriginal homelessness requires a different cultural approach

Munakata said the study doesn’t disprove the marshmallow test’s central finding: that the ability to withstand here-and-now rewards is linked to success in long-term goals. And she acknowledges that genetics, neurocognitive factors and social factors play a role in how much willpower a child exhibits. (Her own 2018 research found that when other preschoolers in their “in-group” choose to wait for the second marshmallow, they do too).

But there are things parents and caregivers can do to reap the benefits of better self-control.

“Cultivating habits of waiting for others could do much more than support politeness,” Munakata said, noting that such habits can alter brain systems in ways that make delaying gratification more automatic. “It could make it easier for children to succeed in future life situations without having to work so hard.”


Delaying gratification: How do children in different cultures react to waiting?


More information:
Kaichi Yanaoka et al, Cultures Crossing: The Power of Habit in Delaying Satisfaction, psychological science (2022). DOI: 10.1177/09567976221074650

Provided by the University of Colorado at Boulder

Quote: A new take on the ‘marshmallow test’: When it comes to resisting temptation, a child’s cultural education matters (2022, July 24) retrieved July 24, 2022 from https://phys. org/news/2022-07-marshmallow- resist-temptation-child-cultural.html

This document is copyrighted. Other than fair dealing for personal study or research, nothing may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.