Deferred gratification or delayed gratification is the ability to wait in order to obtain something that one wants. This personality trait is important for life success.
In Daniel Goleman's book “Emotional Intelligence," he describes the concept of the EQ (Emotional Quotient). EQ is similar in many respects to IQ; however, EQ is believed to be a better determinant of success in relating, building, and maintaining relationships with others over the course of a person's life.People who lack this trait are said to need instant gratification and may suffer from poor impulse control.
Impulse control disorder is a set of psychiatric disorders including (hot-headedness), kleptomania (stealing), pathological gambling, pyromania (fire-starting), trichotillomania (pulling one's hair out) and dermatillomania (skin picking). Impulse control disorders are considered to be part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum.
The onset of these disorders usually occurs between the ages of 7 and 15. Impulsivity, the key feature of these disorders, can be thought of as seeking a small, short term gain at the expense of a large, long term loss. Those with the disorder repeatedly demonstrate failure to resist their behavioral impetuosity. The essence of emotional self-regulation is the ability to control one's impulses in the service of goal.
The marshmallow experiment is a famous test of this concept conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Daniel Goleman in his popular work. In the 1960s, a group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not.
The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
The marshmallow test has been found to be a remarkable predictor in how successful the children will be at establishing and achieving goals. The test is essentially a way of measuring if the child is capable of understanding consequences and delaying gratification for a future reward.
The test starts with the interviewer and the child sitting at a table. The interviewer offers the child a marshmallow that they can have immediately, or if they can wait for 15 minutes they will be rewarded with an extra marshmallow. The interviewer then gets a call and has to leave the room, again explaining that if the child waits for their return they will be rewarded with a second marshmallow, but they are free to have the marshmallow in front of them at anytime. If they do take the marshmallow in front of them they will not get the second marshmallow, if they wait they will be rewarded with two.
This simple test has been a great predictor in determining how successful children will be in later life. Those children that are able to understand the concept of delayed gratification, and wait for the second marshmallow, tend to be more goal oriented. The children that act impulsively and eat the first marshmallow tend to be impulsive with less understanding of future reward.