Rational Snacking: Young Children’s Decision-Making on the Marshmallow Task Is Moderated by Beliefs About Environmental Reliability
When asked to resist the temptation of an immediately available low-value reward to obtain one of high-value after a temporal delay, 75% of children failed to do so, succumbing to their desire after an average of 5.72 min. The cause of these apparent failures of rationality, however, is not fully understood. While children’s failures to wait are likely the result of a combination of many genetic and environmental variables, two potentially important factors are self-control capacity and established beliefs.
Comparing the associations found between the delay behavior of the preschool child and the subsequent outcome measures. One contributing source may be stability in the subjects' family-mediated environments (e.g., Greenberger, Steinberg, & Vaux, 1982; Holahan & Moos, 1986; Lefcourt, Martin, & Saleh, 1984). For example, stability in parental child-rearing practices and in the psychosocial environment in the family and the community may be a common factor underlying both preschool children's delay of gratification behavior and their cognitive and self-regulatory competence in adolescence. These commonalities may contribute to the observed long-term correlations.
Interpreting measurement of self-regulation in the absence of rule compliance is difficult, because the causes of noncompliance were varied and not readily discernable. This followed in the second study by finding minimal differences between one or the other of the non-delay groups and the delay group, which this analysis indicates are associated with working memory and attention, and impulsivity and externalizing behavior, taken together to mean that not only does compliance have influence on the exercising of self-regulation, but self-regulation can influence the ability to comply. Furthermore, this analysis supported a long established and growing literature, which finds that controlling parenting beliefs and harsh discipline are negatively correlated with both compliance and self-regulation. Together, these findings have implications for both behavior problems and discipline policies in schools, beginning with preschool.
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