Deferred gratification is the ability to wait in order to obtain something that one wants. This attribute is known by many names, including impulse control, will power, and self control. It is suggested to be an important component of emotional intelligence. People who lack this trait are said to need instant gratification and may suffer from poor impulse control.
Conventional wisdom considers good impulse control to be a personality trait important for life success. It has been argued that people with poor impulse control suffer from weak ego boundaries. This term originates in Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality where the id is the pleasure principle, the superego is the morality principle, and the ego is the reality principle. Poor impulse control may also be related to biological factors in the brain. Researchers have found that children with fetal alcohol syndrome are less able to delay gratification.
The marshmallow experiment is a well known test of the deferred gratification concept conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. In the 1960s, a group of four-year-olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, but only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the next 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, scoring an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later. Mischel later found that easily explained tactics allowed children who had waited very short periods to wait for quite long periods.