Children are more likely to control their immediate impulses when they and a peer rely on each other to get a reward than when they’re left to their own willpower, new research indicates.
The findings appear in Psychological Science. The researchers say their experiments are the first to show that children are more willing to delay gratification for cooperative reasons than for individual goals.
For their study, researchers Rebecca Koomen, Sebastian Grueneisen, and Esther Herrmann, all affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, used a modified version of the “marshmallow test,” a classic psychological experiment designed to examine young children’s ability to delay gratification. In the classic experiment, preschool children were led into a room where a marshmallow or other treat was placed on a table. The children were told they could either eat the treat right away, or they could wait until the experimenter, who had to step out of the room, returned, in which case they’d receive a second treat. About a third of the children were able to wait for the second treat for up to 15 minutes.