Jonah Lehrer has a great article on delayed gratification studies - and it reminded me of my own struggles as a kid every Lent avoiding candy or eating vegetables. In a study cited by Lehrer, children were put in a room and given a choice: they could have a treat immediately or, if they waited fifteen minutes, they would get two treats. The children could ring a bell at any time to summon a researcher:
Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.
This and subsequent research has led us to believe that the ability to delay gratification for better rewards in the future is a fundamental skill in success, probably because it looks at how emotions and motivations interact with a more rational appproach to reasoning. We know what's best, but can we keep temptation at bay to reach it?
We all need nuns in childhood. They fuck you up but they make you smart.