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PSY426H1 Lecture Notes - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Walter Mischel, Likey

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Jason Plaks

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Delay of Gratification in Children
Walter Mischel et al.
Choice to delay
Increases with the values of the delayed rewards relative to the immediate ones
Increases with the subjects age
Is susceptible to a variety of social influences
“children who tend to prefer delayed rewards also tend to be more intelligent, more likey to resist
temptation, to have greater social responsibility and higher achievement strivings”
Self-imposed delay of gratification
Experiment – Children were made to choose between two objects, one favourable and one less
favourable, but had to wait 15 minutes (delay gratification) for the more favourable one.
Results – those who waited longer were described 10 years later by parents to have the traits mentioned
Traits such as…
Academically and socially competent
Able to cope with frustration and resist temptation better
Verbally fluent and able to express ideas
Used and responded to reason
Attentive and able to concentrate
To plan and think ahead
Competent and skillfull
It was formerly believed that children could delay gratification by anticipating the gratification
mentally, by focussing on thoughts or fantasies – but studies showed that it’s actually the opposite
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To attend or not to attend…
Condition 1: children waited with both the immediate (less preferred) and the delayed (more preferred)
rewards facing them
Condition 2: both rewards were present but obscured from sight
Condition 3 and 4: either the delayed reward only or the immediately available reward was exposed
during the delay period
Attention to the rewards consistently and substantially decreased delay time instead of increasing it.
Preschool children waited an avg. of more than 11 minutes when no rewards were exposed, but less
than 6 minutes on avg. when any of the rewards were exposed during the delay
Children were then suggested to think of different types of thoughts to orient their attention with regard
to the rewards
When preschoolers were cued to think about the rewards when waiting, delay time was short,
regardless of whether the objects were exposed or covered
When distracting (and “fun”) thoughts were suggested, children waited for more than 10 minutes
whether or not the rewards were exposed
When no thoughts were suggested, delay time was greatly reduced by reward exposure
Distracting thoughts counteracted the strong effects of exposure to the actual rewards, allowing children
to wait about as long as they did when the rewards were covered and no thoughts were suggested.
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