Delay of gratification in 2- and 3-year-olds: Associations with attachment, classroom behavior, personality, and temperament

Date of Completion

January 2002


Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Personality|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




The study investigated the relationship between 2- and 3-year-old children's ability to delay immediate gratification in an experimental situation and attachment, classroom behavior, personality, and temperament. The study was unique as it studied delay in younger children than is the norm in the field and it studied dimensions of attachment and parental caregiving. The sample comprised of fifty preschoolers and their primary caregivers. Data were collected at preschools at the University of Connecticut and Montclair State University (New Jersey). Each child and parent participated in two laboratory tasks. The Gift Task was used to determine the child's ability or inability to wait for a preferred reward. The Preschool Strange Situation was used to assess the child's attachment and the parent's caregiving. Both tasks included a series of episodes with the child, parent, and a stranger. The tasks were videotaped and coded by independent, reliable teams of coders. Parents and the teachers also completed questionnaires regarding children's temperament and personality. Videotaped classroom behaviors of children during a group time setting in the regular classroom were coded for children's activity, attention, and affect. On the basis of children's behaviors in the Gift Task, three delay categories were identified: the Delay group (n = 10), the Touch & Go group (n = 23), and the Non Delay group (n = 17). Delayers did not touch the gift in the room and waited through the entire 12-minute period. Touch & Go children touched the gift initially but, when given a second chance, revised their strategy and waited for the preferred gift. Non Delayers took the gift in the room, and did not respond to additional opportunities to wait. A series of oneway ANOVAs were computed to determine the relationship between several predictor variables and children's delay ability. Type of attachment-caregiving insecurity was related to delay. Insecure-Avoidant children were more likely to be represented in the Touch & Go group, whereas more Insecure-Ambivalent children were in the Non Delay group. Surprisingly, parents' reports of children's personality were not associated with delay, but various aspects of teachers' personality reports were. Some temperamental traits, as reported by parents and teachers, were associated with delay. As a partial validation of the Gift Task procedure, delay classifications were compared to group time classroom behaviors. There were some significant differences among the three delay groups in terms of classroom behavior, especially in terms of coded affect. Overall, the three delay groups were found to be different from each other in some of the hypothesized domains. Further investigations will be necessary to replicate and extend the individual and relationship factors that may have an impact on children's delay ability. ^