I have made my 6.2-year-old kid aware of the experiment on delayed gratification (+ video) and its results. It seems to have worked. Now we write what she wants to buy and associate possible (days) delay to it. Also delaying many other things (say, watching a video by few minutes) which she is agreeing to. In general, I find her more disciplined and more free from pangs, otherwise.

Here are some variants I have tried:

  1. Asking to write 2 words: "gradual, planning" multiple times after explaining the context with examples (say for gradual: "Did you run immediately after being born?" "Ans: No" "First turned, crawled, walking with support ... then running". The idea is to let them contemplate on antonyms for sudden / unplanned stuff using a variety of ways: Asking to come up with different sentences using these words).

  2. I have bought Mi Band (basic and 'Tools & Mi Band' app) and configured to vibrate every 10 minutes. For 10 minutes study and then for 10 minutes playing... There is fun with the band. Asking to sit quietly without any movements for 2 minutes with a timer (mobile screen). If there is a movement then again for 2 minutes.

Many more variety of ways we can definitely do and this is what I was expecting. All these things we can do only after connecting. I would request to read "My Heart I Give to Children" by Sukhomlynsky for good inspiration.

This makes me think there must have been similar interesting experiments done in the past, the results of which we can make use of.

Are there any more such results (in variety)? Do you have any powerful (tested) ideas which are orthogonal in variety?

2 Answers 2


There was a famous study done by a professor at Stanford. Basically, he tested children by showing them a treat such as a marshmallow. They were given a choice to eat the treat immediately, or they could wait 15 minutes and get an additional treat.

Originally, he was just trying to determine what age children could demonstrate delayed gratification. However, later followup studies found a correlation between preschool delayed gratification and their future success (higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, less obesity, etc).

Other experiments also found that this trait could be developed through consistently positive delayed gratification results.




The marshmallow study, and the theories that have budded from it, are viewed with some skepticism after follow up work has been done.

I'm not saying that what you have been doing can't be a valuable exercise, or that you should change anything about what you are doing (especially if you are happy with the results you are seeing). But that if you are interested in following published research, especially on psychology (as well as many other fields):

  1. Practicing self-control in this way may not produce the results you want (even if you are pleased with your child's behaviors). Other behaviors, like learning to avoid tempting situations, may be more fruitful.

  2. Study results that the typical layperson hears about are frequently over-hyped and over-interpreted, especially if there is something novel about the effect being studied.

EDIT: Per comment request, I've added some of the links contained in the Vox article (linked above) to some of the studies on which the article was based.

Does inhibitory control training improve health behaviour? A meta-analysis

Does self-control improve with practice? Evidence from a six-week training program.

Everyday temptations: an experience sampling study of desire, conflict, and self-control.

EDIT 2: I don't think I've been expressing my point clearly, so here's one more try.

The original study and its reproductions, to my knowledge, found associations between doing well on the marshmallow test and good outcomes like strong SAT scores, and found them by identifying children that had already done well on the marshmallow test. What no study has found, (again, to my knowledge; I'm sure I have not read anywhere near all of the literature in this field), is any sort of causal relationship between doing well on the marshmallow test or a similar task and the later good outcomes.

If there is a causal relationship, then practicing delaying gratification should produce the good results, or at least increase the odds of seeing those results. If there is no causal relationship, then practicing delaying gratification should have no effect on whether or not the good results ever happen.

Bringing this back around to the question, I don't know of any other studies that link improving ability to delay gratification, or any other self-control/self-discipline related task, and positive outcomes (including improved capacity for self-control). I don't even know about that for the marshmallow test.

The science is not settled, and I am definitely not saying that there is no causal relationship, only that the current science has not proven that any such relationship exists. Practicing delaying gratification might be a really good thing to do, for various reasons. But the idea that science has proven it produces specific outcomes is pretty strong, hence my comment about skepticism. Similar cautions should apply to any similar research, such as that requested in the initial question.

  • A source better than Vox should be used to refute the ground-breaking studies in the ability to delay gratification (which have been confirmed by many independent sources) and the relationship to better SAT scores, better colleges, etc. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 1:23
  • Vox isn't the source, but rather a write-up that I thought might be accessible to people without access to journal sites or with little experience reading papers published in scientific journals. The story contains some links, but I've updated my answer to include them directly. Some are behind paywalls.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 2:05
  • Thanks; I've removed the post notice. Please note that I'm not sure you aren't talking apples and oranges, but close enough. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 3:20
  • @anongoodnurse Thank you for your comments. I have added more to my answer to try to clarify its relevance to the question.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 4:01
  • It is true the delayed gratification principle does not work 100% all times (ex: when there is an urge to play (right thing) vs need to take rest from illness) but most of the times it works. Regarding the psychology articles: I would like to say without connecting it is not possible to teach these values. (Request to refer "My Heart I Give to Children" by Sukhomlynsky) Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 8:10

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