Can you name a famous child scientist

Marshmallow psychology : The patience of children today and 50 years ago is very different

Nowadays, kids want everything, right now. They cannot resist temptation, have become little tyrants who lie down on the floor, shouting, if their wishes are not immediately fulfilled. This is how the majority of adults think of their offspring. At least that was confirmed by a survey by psychologist Stephanie Carlson from the University of Minnesota among 358 people from different age groups. Especially those of them who have offspring themselves stated that my children are nowhere near as good at putting off a reward as I used to be.

Not everything was better in the past - at least not the children's patience

But that is a mistake. This is suggested by the second study by Carlson and her working group, the results of which have now been published by the American Psychological Association (study here: pdf). It shows that young children can control themselves a little better today than they were fifty years ago if they see a personal advantage in it - at least when it comes to sweets.

For this second study, the researchers took data from the famous “marshmallows” experiment (see video). In the 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel put three to five-year-old daycare children to the test. He set up sweets or savory biscuits in front of them, which they personally particularly liked. For example, there was a chocolate cookie in one bowl and two in the other. You should take the one cookie right away, the experimenter informed them. However, if they waited for him to come back, they would be entitled to the two biscuits.

The main aim of the psychologists (who observed the children through a one-sided mirrored window) was to find out how the behavior in the “marshmallows” experiment and the later life of the children are related. In numerous long-term studies, it was then possible to prove that the test participants, who saved the enjoyment for later as daycare children and thus doubled it, were not only healthier as adults, but also more professionally and socially successful: The ability to "postpone gratification" obviously pays off for the individual in the long run.

Today, children withstand the candy an average of two minutes longer

Because the experiment was repeated by Laurence Aber with daycare children from New York in the 80s and by Carlson himself in Washington and Minnesota at the beginning of the new millennium, the question of whether children are better today can now be answered in comparison can do worse than before. And the answer is clear: the small test subjects from the 21st century lasted an average of two minutes longer than the test participants did fifty years earlier. The daycare children of the 80s are exactly in the middle between the two other groups when it comes to “delayed gratification”.

"This finding is in stark contrast to the adult belief that children today have less self-control than previous generations," says lead author Carlson. She emphasizes that the latest study in the series only included children who were not taking medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD. Such remedies have been prescribed more and more in recent decades, and that could have falsified the picture (see box).

Today children are able to think abstractly earlier

The researchers see a possible explanation for the fact that three to five-year-old children do better in tests of self-control than their peers fifty years ago is that they go to daycare centers earlier today, which also see themselves more as educational institutions than in the past. Tests have definitely shown that children today are able to think abstractly earlier. The researchers cite another possible reason for this, which collides with popular belief: the early use of tablets and smartphones promotes certain cognitive abilities in children.

However, that is a double-edged sword: “Apps could make it more difficult for some children to concentrate on tasks that do not have an immediate reward, such as homework, in the longer term. Ironically, however, using the devices requires abstract thinking and attention control, which could make it easier for them to postpone rewards. "

It may also be important what kind of reward is in prospect. Marshmallows, chocolate biscuits and pretzels are perhaps no longer so irresistible today because children can get hold of them far more often outside the “laboratory” of psychologists than they did in the middle of the last century. Former master Mischel, who already did the tests in the 60s, comments on the follow-up studies in any case quite soberly: “The findings say nothing about the willingness to postpone rewards when one is dealing with the temptations that are so diverse today Everyday life. "

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