At a time when you can post a selfie or complete an online purchase in less time than it takes to jot down a to-do list, it would stand to reason that today’s kids are less able to delay gratification than other generations. But, according to new research led by University of Minnesota professor Stephanie M. Carlson, director of research for the Institute of Child Development, children growing up in the 2000s actually have better self-control than kids in the 1960s and 1980s.
Carlson and her colleagues from universities across the country measured 358 U.S. adults’ perceptions of self-control in kids today and compared those findings to children’s performance in the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s on the “marshmallow test,” a now-classic experiment where children between the ages of 3 and 5 are offered one treat they can eat immediately or a larger treat if they wait. The ability to delay gratification is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including better relationships with peers, healthier weight, and higher SAT scores.
Carlson and her colleagues found that kids growing up in the 2000s waited an average of two minutes longer on the marshmallow test than kids in the 1960s and one minute longer than kids tested in the 1980s. By contrast, the adults they surveyed overwhelmingly assumed that today’s children would be less likely to control their impulses. The researchers theorize that the improvements in self-control can be attributed to rising IQ scores and a nationwide commitment to preschool.
The two-part study was published in the June 2018 issue of Developmental Psychology.
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