Delayed gratification  

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"Western culture is sometimes criticized for its emphasis on instant gratification, i.e., the conscious expenditure of effort to make the time interval between wanting something and getting it as short as possible. This focus may be due in part to the influence of utilitarianism, the consequentialist belief that morality can be measured by the overall yield of happiness (utility) that results from a particular action. One example of a significant influence of this theory is the importance of cost–benefit analysis in Western economic theory." --Sholem Stein

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Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.

Walter Mischel has led the research on delayed gratification, most notably the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which shed light on the long-term results of a person's ability to delay gratification.


The psychoanalytic term impulse control derives from the Freudian psychology theory of personality (Id, Ego, Super-ego), wherein, the id is the pleasure principle, the ego is the reality principle, and the super-ego is the morality principle. The purpose of the ego is to satisfy the needs of the Id, whilst respecting the needs of other people. Accordingly, a person who is unable to delay gratification might possess an imbalanced psychic apparatus wherein the id cannot be controlled by the ego and the super-ego.


To test the theory of a person’s ability to delay gratification, the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972), conducted by Prof. Walter Mischel, at Stanford University, California, studied a group of four-year-old children, each of whom was given one marshmallow, but promised two on condition that he or she wait twenty minutes, before eating the first marshmallow. Some children were able to wait the twenty minutes, and some were unable to wait. Furthermore, the university researchers then studied the developmental progress of each participant child into adolescence, and reported that children able to delay gratification (wait) were psychologically better adjusted, more dependable persons, and, as high school students, scored significantly greater grades in the collegiate Scholastic Aptitude Test. More recently, the study Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Developmental Characteristics and Directions for further Research (1994) reported that children afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are less able to delay gratification; indicating, perhaps, that poor impulse control might originate biologically, in the brain.

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