Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 19 June 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00355

Delaying gratification depends on social trust

  • 1Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 2Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Delaying gratification is hard, yet predictive of important life outcomes, such as academic achievement and physical health. Prominent theories focus on the role of self-control, hypersensitivity to immediate rewards, and the cost of time spent waiting. However, delaying gratification may also require trust in people delivering future rewards as promised. To test the role of social trust, participants were presented with character vignettes and faces that varied in trustworthiness, and then choose between hypothetical smaller immediate or larger delayed rewards from those characters. Across two experiments, participants were less willing to wait for delayed rewards from less trustworthy characters, and perceived trustworthiness predicted willingness to delay gratification. These findings provide the first demonstration of a causal role for social trust in willingness to delay gratification, independent of other relevant factors, such as self-control or reward history. Thus, delaying gratification requires choosing not only a later reward, but a reward that is potentially less likely to be delivered, when there is doubt about the person promising it. Implications of this work include the need to revise prominent theories of delay of gratification, and new directions for interventions with populations characterized by impulsivity.

Keywords: cognitive processes, delay of gratification, decision making, intertemporal choice, social cognition

Citation: Michaelson L, de la Vega A, Chatham CH and Munakata Y (2013) Delaying gratification depends on social trust. Front. Psychol. 4:355. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00355

Received: 11 March 2013; Paper pending published: 20 March 2013;
Accepted: 31 May 2013; Published online: 19 June 2013.

Edited by:

Andreas B. Eder, University of Wuerzburg, Germany

Reviewed by:

Daniel Balliet, VU University, Netherlands
Celeste Kidd, University of Rochester, USA

Copyright © 2013 Michaelson, de la Vega, Chatham and Munakata. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Laura Michaelson, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Cognitive Development Center, University of Colorado, 345 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA e-mail: laura.michaelson@colorado.edu

These authors are co-first authors.

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