Deferring Gratification

If you see a pair of shoes, a gadget or whatever your favourite “impulse buy” is, can you just ignore it? If you can, well done!
How about if it is on sale?  Can you convince yourself that it makes no difference, or do you think – “it’s on sale, I want it, I’ll buy it some time so I might as well get it now”?
How did you get on?  Not easy is it?  This is the effect of it being difficult to “defer gratification”, we want what we want now, not in the future.
Most of the textbooks talk about the ability to “defer gratification” as something that children have to learn, assuming that adults can all do it.  This is partly because the effect was first demonstrated in children and mainly because the psychologists and everybody else who has studied the effect don’t want to face the fact that they (and all adults) are subject to it as well
There is a classic type of experiment where children are offered a sweet and told that they can eat it now, but if they wait to eat the sweet they will get a second sweet (or a bag of sweets, or a better sweet, depending on the particular experiment) in ten minutes or so when the experimenter comes back.  In theory, around a particular age children learn to “defer gratification”, to take less reward (or none) now, in order to have a bigger reward later.
In theory!

It’s a reason adults don’t save for pensions, we still like the sweet now instead of the bag of sweets in 10 minutes.  However, once we’re grown up we buy a car instead of a single sweet now and have £25,000 a year less pension instead of a bag of sweets in 30 years time.However, a solid result of research into this is that children who could defer gratification better were more successful later in life, they got higher school grades, had better incomes etc.  That doesn’t mean one causes the  other, there could be other factors involved and it is always dangerous to  assume that because two things are correlated (in this case, childhood ability to defer gratification and adult success) that one causes the other.
However, it does suggest that being exposed to situations where deferment of gratification is useful and can be practiced, and particularly to seeing, practicing and learning strategies for doing it effectively are handy things for children (and adults) to get.

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