Ms.Claire Brunell, Head of the Psychology Department at Caxton College discusses the importance of self-control and choices.

The focus of the month for February was ‘choices’. This allowed staff to reward students for making the correct choices during the school day. We may think it is important for everyone to make the correct choices in life but recent psychological research can shed some light on just how important choices can be. Making the ‘correct’ choice in life is often a matter of self-control; the choice to revise for an exam over watching TV, the choice to arrive on time to class over staying in bed for an extra ten minutes. Roy Baumister suggests that self-control is literally like a muscle. The more we use it, in the short term, the more it will fatigue and the more problematic we will find it to make the ‘right’ choices. However, in the long term this muscle can get stronger. A very famous experiment at Stanford University also highlighted the importance of self-control and making the correct choice. Children were presented with a marshmallow and told if they chose not to eat it straight away they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Only one third waited long enough to get the second marshmallow. In a follow up study the children who delayed gratification longer, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents as significantly more competent. So it appears that there are many benefits to be gained from delaying watching TV and revising for exams instead! However, any psychologist would also be cautious with drawing conclusions from this study. Psychology does teach us much about human behavior but the discipline also teaches us to treat general claims from one study with caution. Ask your sons and daughters who study psychology to point out some of the problems with this study. As with everything in this area there is always room for discussion and debate.

For more discussion on up to date psychological research click here.

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