My current project focuses on the children’s ability to delay gratification (the ability to forego a small immediate reward in favour of a larger, delayed reward) and its improvement. Recent research shows that the ability to delay gratification is important predictor of a child’s future success in school and society in general: children who are able to delay gratification develop into more cognitively and socially competent adolescents, they are able to cope better with stress and frustration and have higher academic performance.
During an extensive research project carried out in Slovakia and Vanuatu, I demonstrated that ritual, with its attentional requirements, demands on working memory, and the importance of rigid performance, helps to increase children’s executive function (their self-regulatory abilities). Executive function mediated the effect of ritual on the ability to delay gratification: that is to say, children engaged in ritual experimental subgroup will develop better ability to execute self-regulatory abilities, which enable them to forego longer waiting periods.
This research shows that engaging in ritualised behaviour might have far more important impact on well-being than was generally assumed. Not only was the ability to delay gratification shown to be an important predictor of children’s future academic and social success (because it enables children to inhibit prepotent responses and focus their attention on relevant cues and stimuli), it is also a key component in planning and decision making, and helps to concentrate when relying on our instincts or impulses is unhelpful, insufficient or impossible.