Delay of gratification in children

Science. 1989 May 26;244(4907):933-8. doi: 10.1126/science.2658056.


To function effectively, individuals must voluntarily postpone immediate gratification and persist in goal-directed behavior for the sake of later outcomes. The present research program analyzed the nature of this type of future-oriented self-control and the psychological processes that underlie it. Enduring individual differences in self-control were found as early as the preschool years. Those 4-year-old children who delayed gratification longer in certain laboratory situations developed into more cognitively and socially competent adolescents, achieving higher scholastic performance and coping better with frustration and stress. Experiments in the same research program also identified specific cognitive and attentional processes that allow effective self-regulation early in the course of development. The experimental results, in turn, specified the particular types of preschool delay situations diagnostic for predicting aspects of cognitive and social competence later in life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Frustration*
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Reward
  • Social Adjustment