What is it about?

Delaying gratification, as opposed to opting for immediate gratification, is generally understood as an indication that a child is well-adjusted, or has good self-regulation skills; research supporting this notion has largely focused on children from relatively affluent families. However, choosing to delay gratification in uncertain conditions-- e.g., as a result of poverty -- can be unwise. We examined whether and how delayed gratification choices were related to other outcomes among children of color from low-income families -- children presumed to have experience with future events being uncertain.

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Why is it important?

We observed that children with better self-regulation skills and classroom behaviors chose immediate gratification more often than their peers, which is the opposite of what traditional research and theory would predict. These results may be highly specific to the measures and research protocols that were used; however, they demonstrate that proclivity toward immediate gratification may reflect adaptive, as opposed to deficient, self-regulatory development among some children in some contexts.


It is a privilege to "stand on the shoulders of giants" in writing about a construct that has such a long-standing and robust research based, as well as to be able to work on projects with children and families who are not only under-represented by the research base, but who often are not well-served by research itself. I hope this article encourages critical thinking about the assumptions, choices, and interpretations we make in research, particularly when it comes to measuring and interpreting self-regulatory "skills" in marginalized populations.

Chelsea Duran
University of Virginia

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Choosing immediate over delayed gratification correlates with better school-related outcomes in a sample of children of color from low-income families., Developmental Psychology, June 2020, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/dev0000920.
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