Childhood Delayed Gratification Tied to Later Impulse Control

In functional imaging, prefrontal cortex differentiates no-go and go trials in high delayers

THURSDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- The ability to delay gratification early in life is indicative of neurological differences which may affect how individuals regulate their behavior years later, according to a study published online Aug. 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

B.J. Casey, Ph.D., from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and colleagues assessed whether delay of gratification in childhood predicts impulse control abilities and sensitivity to alluring cues (happy faces) in 60 individuals now in their mid-forties who underwent "hot" and "cool" versions of a go/no-go task to evaluate a delay-of-gratification task four decades ago. Functional imaging was performed in 26 subjects to test for biased recruitment of frontostriatal circuitry which are needed to suppress responses to alluring cues.

The investigators found that high delayers in preschool were better at suppressing responses to happy but not neutral or fearful faces when compared to preschool low delayers who exhibited low self-control abilities in their twenties and thirties. Sensitivity to environmental hot cues is suggested play a role in individuals' ability to suppress actions to these stimuli. Based on functional imaging, the prefrontal cortex differentiated between no-go and go trials to a greater extent in high delayers. Low delayers exhibited exaggerated recruitment in the ventral striatum.

"Resistance to temptation as measured originally by the delay-of-gratification task is a relatively stable individual difference that predicts reliable biases in frontostriatal circuitries that integrate motivational and control processes," the authors write.

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