Better Educational Achievement in Kids Who Delay Gratification

Summary: Researchers adapted the “delay of gratification” test for Singaporean preschool children, offering insights into self-regulation development in Asian contexts. The research involved children choosing between smaller immediate rewards and larger delayed rewards, revealing key developmental and socioeconomic factors influencing their choices.

The study, part of the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study (SG-LEADS), found that girls and children of higher-educated parents displayed better delay of gratification, which correlates with improved academic and behavioral outcomes later. This research underscores the importance of fostering self-regulation skills in early childhood to enhance future academic and socioemotional success.

Key Facts:

  1. The study modified the classic marshmallow test to a choice paradigm suitable for evaluating delay of gratification in young Singaporean children.
  2. Factors such as age, gender, and parental education level significantly influenced children’s ability to delay gratification.
  3. Longitudinal data showed that early self-regulation skills predict better academic performance and fewer behavioral problems two years later.

Source: National University of Singapore

Suppose you were given a choice between having a smaller reward now and getting a larger reward 10 minutes later. For most adults, the choice is clear. Withstanding short-term temptation in pursuit of a greater long-term goal is crucial for the functioning and well-being of individuals and society.

While the famous “Marshmallow Test” developed by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s has pioneered a large body of research on delayed gratification in Western populations, little is known about how well other tasks can measure young children’s ability to delay gratification, particularly in the Asian context.

This shows a little girl.
The findings suggest the role of socioeconomic environments in nurturing children’s ability to delay gratification during early childhood. Credit: Neuroscience News

A study titled “Delayed Gratification Predicts Behavioral and Academic Outcomes: Examining the Validity of the Delay-of-Gratification Choice Paradigm in Singaporean Young Children,” by Dr. Chen Luxi and Professor Jean Yeung from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, modified and validated a different task, called the choice paradigm, to measure delay of gratification among Singaporean young children and examined the factors behind the development of delayed gratification and its longitudinal outcomes.

In the choice paradigm, children were presented with both the “now” and “later” options simultaneously. They made choices between getting the smaller reward immediately and getting the larger rewards 10 minutes later, over 9 test trials.

The work is published in the journal Applied Developmental Science.

This study has shed light on the development of self-regulation among Asian children to address the gap in research in this area, which has predominantly focused on the classic marshmallow test and Western populations.

Nationally representative data used in this study were part of the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study (SG-LEADS), led by Prof Yeung and housed by the Center for Family and Population Research at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

As a modern and affluent nation with a highly educated, multicultural and multiracial population, Singapore serves as a useful case study for valuable insights into the development of children from other Asian societies with similar characteristics.

Close to 3,000 Singaporean preschool children were tested in two waves—the first assessed children’s working memory, delay of gratification indexed by the choice paradigm, as well as parent-rated children’s self-control in their daily lives.

The second wave two years later saw roughly the same batch of children being studied for academic achievement and behavioral issues. The results were interesting—age, gender, and parental education were the factors found to influence a young child’s ability to delay gratification.

Preschool girls were found to have generally outperformed preschool boys during the delay of gratification choice task. While girls generally made future-oriented choices at age 4, boys started to delay gratification later at age 5.

Dr. Chen and Prof Yeung also discovered that children of parents with lower education backgrounds started delaying gratification at an older age. The findings suggest the role of socioeconomic environments in nurturing children’s ability to delay gratification during early childhood.

The data further revealed that children who show greater self-restraint and willingness to delay their gratification in their preschool years also tended to have better working memory and self-control which were linked to better academic skills and fewer behavioral and emotional problems two years later.

Dr. Chen said, “The findings have practical implications. It revealed that having greater self-regulation in early childhood, including having a greater ability to delay gratification, more advanced working memory, and stronger self-control in their daily lives, can predict children’s more excellent academic achievement and positive behavioral development later in life.

“Our findings underscore the importance of incorporating self-regulation into future interventions and educational programs.

“It is crucial to nurture children’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral self-regulation during the preschool years, so as to enhance their school readiness and build a good foundation for their socioemotional functioning and academic skills in formal schooling,” she added.

About this psychology and neurodevelopment research news

Author: Chen Luxi
Source: National University of Singapore
Contact: Chen Luxi – National University of Singapore
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Delayed gratification predicts behavioral and academic outcomes: Examining the validity of the delay-of-gratification choice paradigm in Singaporean young children” by Luxi Chen et al. Applied Developmental Science


Delayed gratification predicts behavioral and academic outcomes: Examining the validity of the delay-of-gratification choice paradigm in Singaporean young children

This study examined the reliability and validity of the Delay-of-Gratification (DoG) choice paradigm in Singapore, a multicultural Asian society.

Data were collected over two waves from a nationally representative sample of 2,956 Singaporean young children, a subset of the participants from the Singapore Longitudinal Early Development Study (SG-LEADS). DoG, working memory, and parent-rated child self-control were measured during the preschool years (ages 3–6) in Wave 1.

Academic achievement and parent-rated child behavior problems were measured approximately two years later in Wave 2.

Results evidenced sound psychometric properties of the multi-trial actual choice task as a measure of DoG with Singaporean young children, indicated by (1) excellent internal reliability, (2) development of DoG as a function of age, gender, and parental education, (3) variations in children’s choices by the quantity of the delayed reward, (4) convergent validity with concurrently measured working memory and self-control, and (5) predictive validity with more advanced reading and mathematical skills as well as fewer externalizing and internalizing problems, indirectly through working memory and self-control.

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