Zooming in on children's behavior during delay of gratification: Disentangling impulsigenic and volitional processes underlying self-regulation

Regula Neuenschwander, Clancy Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

When delaying gratification, both motivational and regulatory processes are likely to be at play; however, the relative contributions of motivational and regulatory influences on delay behavior are unclear. By examining behavioral responses during a delay task, this study sought to examine the motivational (anticipatory behavior) and regulatory mechanisms (executive function and self-control strategies) underlying children's self-regulation. The participants, 65 5- to 9-year-old children (Mage = 7.19 years, SD = 0.89), were video-recorded during a delay procedure and later coded for anticipatory behaviors (e.g., gazing intensely at the tablet) and self-control strategies. Children also completed two executive function (EF) tasks. We found that anticipatory behavior was curvilinearly related to delay time. Children showing either very low or very high levels of anticipatory behavior were not able to wait the entire time. Furthermore, our results indicated that anticipatory behavior interacted with EF to predict delay time. Specifically, anticipatory behavior was negatively related to delay time only if EF abilities were low. Finally, self-control strategies also interacted with EF to predict children's ability to delay. Spontaneous engagement in self-control strategies such as fidgeting and engagement in alternative activities were beneficial for children with low EF but were unrelated to delay time for children with high EF. Results indicate the value of examining motivational and regulatory influences on delay behavior. Lapses in self-regulation may be due to the combination of powerful impulsigenic (i.e., anticipatory behavior) and weak volitional processes (i.e., EF, self-control strategies).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-63
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
Volume154
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Keywords

  • Delay of gratification
  • Executive function
  • Impulsigenic (anticipatory behavior)
  • Observed self-control strategies
  • Self-regulation
  • Video coding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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