Children delay gratification for cooperative ends

Rebecca Koomen, Sebastian Grueneisen, Esther Herrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To cooperate effectively, both in small-scale interactions and large-scale collective-action problems, people frequently have to delay gratification (i.e., resist short-term temptations in favor of joint long-term goals). Although delay-of-gratification skills are commonly considered critical in children’s social-cognitive development, they have rarely been studied in the context of cooperative decision-making. In the current study, we therefore presented pairs of children (N = 207 individuals) with a modified version of the famous marshmallow test, in which children’s outcomes were interdependently linked such that the children were rewarded only if both members of the pair delayed gratification. Children from two highly diverse cultures (Germany and Kenya) performed substantially better than they did on a standard version of the test, suggesting that children are more willing to delay gratification for cooperative than for individual goals. The results indicate that from early in life, human children are psychologically equipped to respond to social interdependencies in ways that facilitate cooperative success.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


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