A Forty Year Study: Self control behavior largely unchanged from childhood to adulthood
Temptation and self-regulation are issues that everyone experiences. However, a new research study funded in part by the NIH Common Fund’s Science of Behavior Change Program has now examined, in detail, delayed gratification responses in a group of subjects over the course of four decades. In their current study, the researchers selected a group of subjects now in their mid forties who were previously tested for delay-of- gratification responses in preschool. Their main objective was to examine the neural basis of self-regulation. In the ~60 subjects tested, the researchers found that those who performed poorly as preschoolers also showed similar performance levels throughout their 20s, 30s, and now 40s. The researchers showed that these “low delaying” participants performed more poorly than high delayers when having to suppress a response to a happy face but not to neutral or fearful faces, suggesting that sensitivity to specific types of cues plays an important role in one’s ability to suppress actions. The results show that impulse control is difficult only when the tested cue is alluring to the subject, highlighting that the behavioral response is specific to compelling cues. The study then went on to examine a smaller subset of the participants using functional imaging, something that had not been conducted on any of the subjects previously. Examining both high and low delayers using alluring cues, the authors showed consistent differences in brain circuitry responses. The findings of this study show that the delay-of-gratification test serves as a good method for examining motivational and control processes, which appear to be stable from preschool through adulthood.
Casey BJ, Somerville LH, Gotlib IH, Ayduk O, Franklin NT, Askren MK, Jonides J, Berman MG, Wilson NL, Teslovich T, Glover G, Zayas V, Mischel W, Shoda Y. Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 6; 108(36): 14998-5003. PMID: 21876169.