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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Apr;54(4):687-96.

The nature of adolescent competencies predicted by preschool delay of gratification.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027.


Delay of gratification, assessed in a series of experiments when the subjects were in preschool, was related to parental personality ratings obtained a decade later for 95 of these children in adolescence. Clear and consistent patterns of correlations between self-imposed delay time in preschool and later ratings were found for both sexes over this time span. Delay behavior predicted a set of cognitive and social competencies and stress tolerance consistent with experimental analyses of the process underlying effective delay in the preschool delay situation. Specifically, children who were able to wait longer at age 4 or 5 became adolescents whose parents rated them as more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress. Comparisons with related longitudinal research using other delay situations help to clarify the important features of the situations and person variables involved in different aspects of delay of gratification.

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