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Waiting for the better reward: Comparison of delay of gratification in young children across two cultures.

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Ding, Ning 
Frohnwieser, Anna 
Clayton, Nicola S 


Delay of gratification-a form of self-control-is the ability to forsake immediately available rewards in order to obtain larger-valued outcomes in future, which develops throughout the pre-school years. The majority of previous research in this area has been conducted with Western populations, therefore knowledge of Eastern children's performance is scarcer. Here, utilising on a recently published dataset of British children (n = 61), we further tested delay of gratification in 3 to 5-year-old Chinese children (n = 75) using Bramlett et al.'s (2012) delay choice paradigm. The paradigm was previously used in non-human primates and it featured a mechanized rotating tray that sequentially moves rewards within reach. Additionally, we administered 3 inhibitory control tasks and 1 standardised delay choice task to Chinese pre-schoolers (British children were not tested). We aimed to investigate the influence of culture, reward type and reward visibility on pre-schoolers' ability to delay gratification. We found significant age-related improvements in delay of gratification ability in both countries and children performed better when presented with rewards varying in quality than quantity. Consistent with previous cross-cultural literature, Chinese children showed better overall performance than their British peers when reward visibility was manipulated (though reward visibility itself had no significant effect on performance). There were significant correlations in Chinese children's performance in Bramlett et al.'s (2012) delay choice paradigm and performance in some (though not all tested) inhibitory control tasks. We discuss these results in relation to task demands and the broader social orientation of self-control. We concluded that the intuitive comparative assessment of self-control task taps into children's delay of gratification ability. Our results emphasize the importance of testing for socio-cultural influences on children's cognitive development.


Funder: China Scholarship Council, China


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PloS one

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European Research Council (3399933)