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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 
Miller, Rachael 


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, we tested delay of gratification in 136 3 to 5-year-old British (n=61) and Chinese (n=75) children using Bramlett et al. (1) delay choice paradigm previously used in non-human primates, which 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. (1) 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.



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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
The study was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 3399933, awarded to N.S.C. Additional funding was received from Chinese Scholarship Council awarded to N.D for her doctoral study at University of Cambridge. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, preparation of the manuscript.