• Researchers conducted the test among kids in Kyoto, Japan, and Boulder, Colorado
  • Some kids had the test using marshmallows, while others had a wrapped gift instead
  • Results show that habits and culture also matter when it comes to delaying gratification

A new twist on the marshmallow test conducted on kids in the U.S. and Japan shows there are actually cultural differences in how long children are willing to wait and what they are willing to wait for.

It also suggests that there are things parents can do to help kids delay gratification.

The marshmallow test is quite simple. In an experimental condition, a young child is left in a room with a marshmallow and told that they can get two marshmallows later on if they wait. Therefore, they can choose to have a smaller treat now or resist the temptation and wait so they can get a bigger treat later.

Previous studies have found that preschoolers who waited longer did better later in life, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder) noted in a news release. For instance, they tended to have higher academic scores and were less likely to display problematic behaviors or end up in jail.

"There was this idea that some kids simply have more self-control, and some kids have less," a senior author in the study and research affiliate at CU Boulder, Yuko Manukata, said, as per the news release.

However, a recent study has found that there is something more to this experiment.

For the study, published in Psychological Science, the researchers conducted the marshmallow test on kids from two different cultures that have different customs when it comes to waiting. This involved 80 children in Kyoto, Japan, and 58 kids in the U.S., specifically from Boulder, Colorado. Researchers also randomly assigned the participants to either the usual test with the marshmallow or another test that involved a wrapped present instead.

Interestingly, the children in Japan were willing to wait three times longer for food (15 minutes) but just less than five minutes to open the presents. On the other hand, the kids in the U.S. had the opposite result, waiting less than four minutes to eat the marshmallow, but nearly 15 minutes for the present, CU Boulder noted.

"If we had just looked at their behavior with the sweets, it would have looked like Japanese kids have better self-control," Munakata said. "But that was not the end of the story."

The results of the study don't debunk the idea of the original study, according to Munakata. It does, however, show that cultural upbringing is also a key player in how long the kids are willing to wait and what they're more willing to wait for.

"Waiting to eat is emphasized more in Japan than in the United States, whereas waiting to open gifts is emphasized more in the United States than in Japan," the researchers wrote.

"This suggests that the way you grow up, the social conventions you are raised around and how much you pay attention to them, are all important," one of the study's authors, Grace Dostart of CU Boulder, said in the news release.

Further, the results of the study also show that even if factors such as genetics may be at play when it comes to the children's willpower, there are simple things that parents can do to foster habits that may help children to develop more self-control and delay gratification, according to CU Boulder.

"These findings suggest that culturally specific habits support delaying gratification, providing a new way to understand why individuals delay gratification and why this behavior predicts life success," the researchers wrote.

Representative image. Pixabay-S. Hermann & F. Richter