What is delayed gratification?

Delayed gratification refers to the act of resisting the impulse to take an immediately available reward in the hope of obtaining a more valued reward in the future. It relies on the human skill of self-regulation/self-control.

The principle has been tested in a multitude of different contexts, often following the structure of offering subjects a small treat which they are welcome to have immediately, or giving them the option of waiting for a period of time and then receiving a slightly larger treat.

Aside from the preference of a larger treat and thus the willingness to wait for it, the delay can also increase anticipation making the treat seem even more rewarding when it finally is received.

A good example of this is Christmas. People know they are going to receive gifts, but having to wait for Christmas day, walking past them for days as they sit under the tree makes it all the more exciting, and prolongs the reward process.  Time can be a powerful course of heightening anticipation and desire, whether the end result turns out to be favourable or not.  

Understanding cognitive biases, such as delayed gratification is crucial to understanding your customers better. To learn more about the brain, please click here for more articles on why we behave as we do or get in touch with us here.

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