Fascinatingly, follow-up studies showed that the so-called "high delayers" (i.e. those who exerted more self-control) were less likely to have behavioral problems and addiction and weight issues later in life as compared to "low delayers" (i.e. the kids who ate the treats in less than a minute). Not only that, high-delayers scored an average of 210 points higher on their SATs.


Recent work by Casey on the same group of individuals 40 years later is offering even more insight. His work shows that our willpower is consistent throughout our entire lives. Self-control tests both with and without emotional "hot cues" showed that, "Individuals who were less able to delay gratification in preschool and consistently showed low self-control abilities in their twenties and thirties performed more poorly than did high delayers when having to suppress a response..."

As summarized by Maia Szalavitz in TIME, after performing brain scans on the 26 participants, the researchers found that

high delayers showed more activity than low delayers in a region of the prefrontal cortex associated with impulse and behavior control, particularly while completing the task involving emotionally charged expressions. Meanwhile, low delayers showed more activation of a deeper region of the brain associated with pleasure, desire and addiction, especially in response to the happy faces.

You might say that high delayers have better mental brakes, while low delayers are driven by a stronger engine. "The low delayers don't tend to activate the prefrontal cortex as much as the high delayers do. The high delayers are very effective at being able to regulate their behavior and not activating this deep system," Casey says. "There's not as much of a push-and-pull for the high delayers."


Importantly, low delayers don't lack general intelligence. And in fact, they have traits that are deemed important to society. "In uncertain times," says Szalavitz, "delaying gratification can be the wrong choice, and people who follow their emotional impulses can become great explorers or entrepreneurs." At the same time, however, and as illustrated by the long-term 'marshmallow' study, low delayers can also get into serious trouble.

Quick Tips

To summarize, here are some things you can do to boost your willpower:


Additional reporting by Levi Gadye.

Other sources: American Psychological Association | New York Times | Slate | Time


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