SAGE Journal Articles

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Delay of Gratification

Westby, C. (2012). Self-regulation and delaying gratification. Word of Mouth, 23, 1-5.


This article summarizes research published in the National Academy of Science on the relationship between children’s ability to delay gratification and levels of self-regulation. Research has shown executive functioning and self-regulation are better predictors of later academic success than measures of intelligence. This study looked at the long-term effects of ability to delay of gratification in terms of ability to control impulses and sensitivity in social situations. Participants, either low delayers or high delayers, completed a behavioral task both in the laboratory and while in an fMRI involving responding to neutral or emotional faces. The results suggest self-control, as predicted by delay of gratification, remains stable over time and is linked to two neurocognitive systems.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways adults are required to delay gratification in order to be successful?
  2. The author provides suggestions for how to promote self-regulation in children. Do you think working with children at a young age will help maintain this ability as they age? Would we see improvements on the self-control task used here?
  3. Why would the salience of the stimuli one must resist matter?


Chernyak, N. & Kushnir, T. (2013). Giving preschoolers choice increases sharing behavior. Psychological Science, 24, 1971-1979.


Research has shown that even very young children are capable of showing prosocial tendencies; however, little is known about the factors that impact when and why children exhibit these tendencies. The goal of this article was to determine if preschool aged children would be more likely to show prosocial behavior when given a choice about sharing previously. Children were either given a choice to share their sticker with a sad puppet or were told they needed to give their sticker to the sad puppet. In a follow-up encounter with a different puppet, children were given the opportunity to share one or more of their three stickers with the new puppet. Children who were given a choice in the first task were much more likely to share their stickers with the new puppet, exhibiting prosocial behavior, than the children who were not given a choice initially.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The authors suggest several reasons why children might have been more likely to share when they were given a choice initially. One theory surrounded the emotional valence surrounding the experience. How might the authors have measured how the children were feeling about sharing their stickers? What would you expect to see between the three groups?
  2. In both cases, the puppets were described as being sad. Do you think the children would have responded differently if the puppet were hurt or happy?
  3. In all cases, regardless of what the children decided, the experimenter said ‘Good job,’ do you think this simple response could have impacted children’s decision to share in the second task? Would this in and of itself be considered a reward that would reinforce the behavior?


Keown, L. (2010). Fathering and mothering of preschool boys with hyperactivity. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 161-168.


With the rise in the number of preschool children being diagnosed with ADHD and the unknown consequences of psychopharmacological interventions, the goal of the current study was to determine how understanding the role parenting styles (for both mothers and fathers) play in the symptoms of ADHD might help us to develop behavioral interventions. Observations of preschool boys (both with and without hyperactivity) were conducted independently with mothers and fathers and parents completed a survey about their parenting practices and parenting satisfaction. The results for mothers were consistent with previous findings, while the results for fathers adds to our understanding of the relationship between parenting styles and hyperactivity. Fathers of hyperactive boys were more likely to report overreactive and less authoritative parenting styles and both mothers and fathers reported more dissatisfaction with their parenting style.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The authors suggest the possibility that the relationship between parenting styles and responses to hyperactivity might appear earlier in development for fathers than for mothers. Why do you think this might be the case? What role might attachment play in this equation?
  2. What are some specific suggestions for interventions that could be used to help parents learn to interact with their hyperactive boys? Would there be differences for fathers and mothers?
  3. One of the limitations noted by the authors was that the study only looked at boys. What differences, if any, might you expect if the study were to be conducted with girls?