Behavioral Correlates of Delay of Gratification

Friday, 13 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Sarah Horne, Bronx, NY
Over 40 years ago, Walter Mischel conducted his original “marshmallow test, ” in which participants were given the choice of eating one marshmallow now or two later.  The participants were not told how much time the experimenter would be gone before they could eat the two marshmallows.  Those who could not wait (15 mins) were classified as low-delayers, and those who were able to wait were classified as high-delayers.  We examined the impulsivity of participants ages 5-21 who had performed a similar delay of gratification test with M&Ms substituted for marshmallows.  These individuals were then tested on an emotional go/nogo-task which was used to determine whether delay of gratification can predict impulse control abilities and sensitivity to positive and negative cues (happy and scared faces).  In this task, participants were directed to press a button each time they saw a certain type of face (happy, scared, or plain) and refrain when a different type of face appeared.  We measured impulsivity by recording each participant’s number of false alarms and compared our results across development and between high delayers and low delayers, separating for gender.  The preliminary data indicate that low-delayers are more impulsive than high-delayers, particularly when the “go” face was emotionally charged.  This finding suggests that delay of gratification abilities at a young age can predict impulsivity throughout development.