May 17, 2011

Childhood self-control linked to later social, financial and health outcomes

In 1972 Walter Mischel of Stanford University did his classic marshmallow experiment. It showed that young children who were better able to resist the temptation of a cookie or marshmallow grew into teenagers with fewer disciplinary problems and better school results. Now, a new study by Terri Moffitt and her team  found that levels of self-control of children are positively associated with a range of social, financial and health outcomes in adult life.  Remarkable was that the study showed that there does not seem to be a level of self-control beyond which no more benefits are gleaned. The study suggests that  teaching children self-control could prevent problems. Also, teaching children self-control is likely to benefit even children who already score highly in self-control. (More about this study here).


  1. This promotes the idea that the individual has the capacity to reflect and revisit, thus gaining additional benefit.
    It can help in all kinds of ways through to adulthood and beyond. However, there will always be those who want it all now and in the future. Personality factors are not featured in this account?

  2. Hi anonymous, if we think about personality as stable behavioral tendencies then, sure, there will be some influence of personality. I don't if the study takes this into account. If you think in terms of big five personality factors, it might be that low conscientiousness is associated with low self-control. Then again, even if your personality would make it harder for you to learn self-control this would not say that the importance of learning self-control would be any less for it. Over the years, by the way, I more and more tend to think that personality is less of a given than I just to think. Even if there is some heritability in personality (which I do believe) this does not preclude the changeability of behavior (and, possibly, even personality itself). So, the message of the article seems to stand no matter the starting position of the child. What do you think?


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