The Attention Training Technique improves Children's ability to delay gratification: A controlled comparison with progressive relaxation

Behav Res Ther. 2018 May:104:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2018.02.003. Epub 2018 Feb 15.


The ability to delay gratification at a young age is a predictor of psychological, cognitive, health, and academic later-life outcomes. This study aimed to extend earlier research and explore whether a metacognitive intervention, Wells' (1990) Attention Training Technique (ATT), could improve young children's ability to delay gratification compared to an active-control (Progressive Muscle Relaxation: PMR), and no-intervention group. One hundred and one children aged 5-6 years old were recruited from schools. Classes of children were randomly allocated to receive the ATT, PMR or no-intervention and tested at pre- and post-intervention on measures of delay of gratification (the Marshmallow Test) and verbal inhibition (Day/Night Task). Results showed that, even when covariates were controlled for, following ATT, children delayed gratification significantly longer than after PMR or no-intervention. ATT also improved verbal inhibition compared with the no-intervention group, whilst PMR did not. The results add to earlier findings; ATT appears to provide a simple and effective way of improving young children's ability to delay gratification which has previously been shown to predict positive outcomes in later-life.

Keywords: Attention Training Technique; Children; Delay of gratification; Executive function; Metacognition.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autogenic Training*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metacognition / physiology*