The Importance Of Self-control And Willpower

Self-control and willpower are difficult to achieve without being taught or learning the hard way. So, we are going to learn about developing self-control & experiments that test willpower. The brain's frontal lobe manages attention and develops from birth onward into our 20s. It's responsible for our impulses. One infamous experiment in 1968, conducted by Walter Mischel, is called 'The Marshmallow Test'.

It tests the willpower of children and with a simple offer, the offer was that they would have 1 sugary marshmallow in that instant or wait 15 minutes to receive 2. The vast majority of 4-year-old subjects struggled with the task, the average waiting time is less than 2 minutes. To sustain their limited self-control they used a variety of mental strategies (distractions) such as covering their eyes or standing in the corner & wait to receive their prize. A few kids ate the marshmallow right away, some ate it right away without so much as ringing the bell provided, others would stare at the treat and would ring the bell 30 seconds later to indicate it was taken.

The willpower of children is almost non-existent as a majority, and since most are highly impulsive. It brings into question if the statistics of this experiment is applicable and if other demographics would show different statistics would be any different. Mischel's experiment defined will power & found the possible way to resist temptation was to either avoid thinking about the thing in the first place or only resistance was possible if you weren't actively trying to resist. The University of Rochester Revisited the experiment by Walter Mischel and found the ability to delay gratification wasn't just hardwired innate skill. In fact, Behavioral cues play a big role in determining who will wait for that second marshmallow.

They changed the experiment and replaced the marshmallow with art supplies & began the test, Only 1 out of 14 children held out 15 minutes, more than half had a reliable encounter. It may be that children assumed the 2nd marshmallow, just like the art supplies, was a big lie. 'The results of 'The Marshmallow Test Revisited' indicated children's performance in a sustained delay of gratification tasks was strongly- influenced by rational decision-making processes'. The researchers contend that this could be true on a large scale & if a child or adult lives in an environment where promises are broken often result in unreliable data. Though this may also be the most rational response is to take what was in front of them and not wait for the possible future.

The article from TIME Magazine, Forget Delayed Gratification: What Kids Really Need Is Cognitive Control, Revealed developing cognitive control plays a central role in mental skills from concentration to basic focus. But the then 40 yr old experiment has been replicated using a variety of enticements that have presented that children who delay gratification will grow to be successful in life. A study in New Zealand showed those whose cognitive control had improved in adolescence fared as people who had high levels in subjects. It's shown having a strong focus on a task is seen to generate stronger brain circuitry. Economist James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winner, argued that teaching this skill school would be a great asset & would benefit society resulting in less crime, a healthier populace & an upward shift in a nation's economy. Another test of self-control is shopping, though it's more of a personal test than the controlled environment of an experiment. Impulsive shopping/spending has grown to become a dilemma for the digital age of recent times. The availability of ATM, credit & online shopping, has provided the potential for round the clock consumers. Wanting to satisfy their buying urges, makes online shopping even more prominent. Not to mention an array of advertisement techniques made persuade you into buying their products.

AnaArticle from the Chicago Tribune, Avoid Impulse Buys with Mental, Financial Limits, detailed a recent academic study. Researchers Kathleen Vohs & Ronald Faber at the University of Minnesota conducted experiments that support a unique theory. The results helped them come to the notion that willpower is a finite resource. Using self-control is similar to exercising a muscle, it will eventually become fatigued & need to recuperate. This window of fatigue allows us to be susceptible to temptation.

Though this entire essay has said how cognitive control is important should be taught. Though impulse is good in some situations doesn't mean it's good for everything. Like spending impulsively you go out the door needing only a few items and come back with 20+ items than we need. Though this could be boiled down to human instinct to stockpile, it's not only the person at fault. We as consumers are constantly bombarded by advertisements, designed to entice. It could be argued that schools can't put it in their curriculum. But if schools want students to get - anywhere in real life they should nurture this skill that's not only needed but useful in every facet of daily life. 

16 August 2021
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