05 April 2018
The US psychologist Walter Mischel famously tested children’s ability – aged four to six – to delay immediate gratification with his “Marshmallow Experiment”.
It’s become a classic, not least because the children who were better at resisting one marshmallow now, for the promise of two if they waited, went on to enjoy more success in adult life.
Mischel also showed that children with stronger willpower used better distraction strategies, such as looking away or covering their eyes. Now a group of Polish psychologists have extended this line of inquiry to toddlers.
The findings, published in Infant Behaviour and Development, show that individual differences in self-control are already apparent at the tender age of 18 months. The study also reveals how self-control develops through the second year of life, and it shows the kind of toddler behaviours that were correlated with stronger willpower.