Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later

Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY 10065, USA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.67). 09/2011; 108(36):14998-5003. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1108561108
Source: PubMed


We examined the neural basis of self-regulation in individuals from a cohort of preschoolers who performed the delay-of-gratification task 4 decades ago. Nearly 60 individuals, now in their mid-forties, were tested on "hot" and "cool" versions of a go/nogo task to assess whether delay of gratification in childhood predicts impulse control abilities and sensitivity to alluring cues (happy faces). Individuals who were less able to delay gratification in preschool and consistently showed low self-control abilities in their twenties and thirties performed more poorly than did high delayers when having to suppress a response to a happy face but not to a neutral or fearful face. This finding suggests that sensitivity to environmental hot cues plays a significant role in individuals' ability to suppress actions toward such stimuli. A subset of these participants (n = 26) underwent functional imaging for the first time to test for biased recruitment of frontostriatal circuitry when required to suppress responses to alluring cues. Whereas the prefrontal cortex differentiated between nogo and go trials to a greater extent in high delayers, the ventral striatum showed exaggerated recruitment in low delayers. Thus, resistance to temptation as measured originally by the delay-of-gratification task is a relatively stable individual difference that predicts reliable biases in frontostriatal circuitries that integrate motivational and control processes.

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    • "Impulsivity has also been conceptually and empirically linked to gratification delay, which requires the capacity to control impulses and postpone an immediate reward in order to obtain a larger reward (Mischel et al., 1989). Casey et al. (2011) showed that preschool children with less capacity to control impulses, as measured by delayed gratification tasks, display low self-control as adults 40 years later. "
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