11 June 2009

Impulsivity Manifest By Age Four

Researchers have found that tests that determine ability to delay gratification conducted as early as age four predict school success much later in life.

Thirty percent of kids studied -- pegged as "high delayers" by the reseachers -- were able to delay their gratification until the researcher's return fifteen minutes later. The others -- [were called] "low delayers" . . . .

The researchers identified the "strategic allocation of attention" as the crucial skill that distinguished high- and low-delayers. High-delayers, for example, found ways to distract themselves by turning their backs on the coveted marshmallow, covering their eyes, playing games, or singing songs. Low-delayers, in contrast, generally couldn't stop themselves from staring at -- and thus thinking about -- the wonderful treat before them.

Tracking their subjects as they grew older, the psychologists found that high-delayers were less likely to experience behavioral problems and more likely to enjoy academic success than their low-delaying counterparts. (Indeed, another researcher found that the ability to delay gratification -- measured, for example, by the choice between taking a dollar right away or two dollars the following week -- was a far better predictor of eighth-graders' academic performance than IQ scores.)

The study also suggests that "strategic allocation of attention" can be taught even at a young age.

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