- Self-control, one of several skills that falls under the category known as executive function, is shaped in early-childhood and influenced by what children think their friends are doing, according to a recent study from researchers at University of Colorado Boulder.
- Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study showed that when preschoolers were told that members of their “in group” decided to wait for two marshmallows instead of getting one right away, they were twice as likely to wait for two themselves.
- “Typically, self-control has been thought of as a trait that a child has or doesn’t have,” lead author Sabine Doebel said in a press release. “Ours is the first study to show that group behavior and group norms influence self-control in children.” The researchers recommend exposing young children to role models — both fictional and in real life — who demonstrate self-control.
The study comes as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) have announced that executive function — which includes the skills of self-control, attention, memory and mental flexibility — is one of the areas targeted as part of a new "request for information" effort to learn about work that is increasing students’ success.
“The reason our two philanthropies have decided to join hands in this effort is simple: We believe the scope and importance of this work exceeds what any single organization can or should undertake alone,” Jim Shelton, president for education at CZI and Bob Hughes, director of K–12 Education at the Gates Foundation, wrote in an op-ed. “There’s so much unrealized potential to accelerate student learning, and we hope many others will be inspired to collaborate toward this same goal alongside us.”
Child development and neuroscience researchers have referred to executive function as the brain’s air traffic control system because children need these skills to “filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals and control impulses.”