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Personal Health : Just Can't Wait for That Reward

September 07, 1993|THE WASHINGTON POST

Little boys who can't wait a minute and a half for a treat or reward are most likely to have behavior problems in school later on, a study by a University of Michigan psychologist has shown.

In her study published in the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Sheryl L. Olson found that of impulse control problems in boys ages 4 1/4 to 5, that of "delay of gratification" was the strongest predictor of later problems. This impatience is not predictive in little girls, she said.

Previous studies have indicated that about half of aggressive preschool boys will carry their aggressions into elementary school. Olson set out to distinguish just which characteristics would predict later behavior.

She examined a group of 79 children (47 boys and 32 girls), assessing them in preschool and again the next year in kindergarten, testing them for a series of self-regulation skills.

In the "delay of gratification" test, the children were given a "very boring puzzle task," Olson said. An examiner brings out a brightly wrapped present and places it just out of the child's reach after promising it to the child ". . . but a little later," Olson said.

"It's only 90 seconds," she said, "not really torture, but the test is whether the child grabs the gift before he finishes."

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