In the late 1960's, Stanford University ran delayed gratification studies among preschool aged children. The Stanford Marshmallow experiment placed a young child in a room with one marshmallow and instructions. If the child could wait 15 minutes, another marshmallow would be given to them as a reward. Very few ate the marshmallow immediately. Most tried to hold out for the doubling of the snack.
Some covered their eyes to avoid looking at the temptation. Others kicked the table and pulled on their hair in order to distract themselves from the marshmallow in front of them. One kid even started to stroke the marshmallow like a small pet.
Decades later, a surprising follow up study showed that the kids that could fully delay gratification fared better in life. Their parents claimed they were more trustworthy, they scored better on SAT tests and they had an overall lower body mass index. This isn't good news for us that eat the marshmallows quickly.
Yet, a recent study ran the same conditions with one change. One group was given a broken promise before the experiment while the other test group received a kept promise. The group with the kept promise was able to delay gratification four times longer than the broken promise kids. Believing that the second marshmallow would actually be there played a huge role in how the kids followed instructions.
Even though there are benefits to those that can wisely plan and delay gratification, there might be a bigger role in our belief system. There might be some neurological connection behind those that can say no to an immediate temptation and how well they score on a test years later. But there might be just as big a connection between those that believe high test scores matter and those that actually achieve those desired outcomes.