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Delay of Gratification

The ability to forgo an immediate pleasure or reward in order to gain a more substantial one later.

Almost everyone, everyday, practices delay of gratification—whether deciding to skip dessert in order to lose weight or give up smoking in order to live longer. The ability to delay gratification is often a sign of emotional and social maturity. Young children, for example, find it more difficult to delay gratification than older children. When kindergartners in one study were offered a choice between getting a small candy bar immediately or a larger one later, 72% chose the smaller candy bar. This number decreased to 67% among first and second graders and 49% for third and fourth graders. By the fifth and sixth grades it had fallen to 38%, nearly half the rate for kindergartners.

Although most people show an improved ability to delay gratification as they get older, some are more successful at it than others. Generally, the people who are most successful in delaying gratification are those with an internal locus of control (a strong belief that their actions can influence events). By contrast, people with an external locus of control are less likely to forego present pleasures for greater future gain.

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Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography