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Tasty Treats Diminish Our Capacity for Patience

Credit: tawanlubfah/Adobe

Credit: tawanlubfah/Adobe

By Bowen Fung

A new study finds that our recent experience with rewards such as food can change our capacity for patience.

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In everyday life, we often make commitments to long-term goals, but in many cases we break these commitments (sometimes rather quickly). When we diet, make financial investments or try to quit smoking, it can feel like there is a constant temptation to give up and appease our more immediate desires. This kind of impulsivity – the tendency to act impatiently, without regard for the future consequences – is often considered to be a negative trait, and society praises individuals who display persistence in the face of temptation. After all, we all know that patience is a virtue.

Impulsivity is also mostly considered to be a stable personality trait that doesn’t change significantly over the course of our lives. The classic example of this is the Stanford marshmallow experiment, where Walter Mischel tested whether children were able to wait patiently for many marshmallows or instead would be tempted into taking a single marshmallow immediately. Follow-up studies of these children showed that those who were more patient tended to have better lifestyle outcomes in terms of educational achievement and health. Does this mean that your inability to quit smoking is set in stone?

Despite the “virtue” of patience, in many real-world situations it is unreasonable to be infinitely patient. Imagine waiting at a bus stop and not knowing when the bus will arrive. You are...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.