In theory, the concept of “living each day as if it’s your last” is an effective way to live in the moment and encourage spontaneity. However, what happens when reckless spending paves the way for debt, casual sex leads to sexually transmitted diseases and partying with friends turns into substance abuse and addiction? In a culture that emphasizes instant gratification, which has been linked to numerous mental health disorders, it can be difficult for some individuals to think long-term and find value in delaying pleasure.
A 1970 study conducted by Stanford University found that children who exhibited the ability to delay gratification were more successful in adulthood than those who did not. Each participant was told by Walter Mischel, psychologist and lead researcher, that he or she could eat the marshmallow on the table immediately. Alternatively, each child could wait to eat the snack until Mischel returned from a short errand and be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. Researchers found that almost all of the children initially stated they would wait but, once left alone in the room, most consumed the marshmallow before Mischel’s return. Those who resisted the urge were labeled as “high-delay” children. These children were tracked and found to be more successful in school, have less behavioral challenges, score an average of 210 points higher on the SAT and have higher incomes as adults than the other children in the study. They also exhibited lower rates of incarceration and substance abuse.
Impulse control is closely related to self-regulation, a skill with which many struggle. As B.J. Casey, professor of developmental psychobiology at Cornell University, found in his 2011 study, the brain activity in high-delay individuals differs from the brain activity of those who are more impulsive in nature. He explains, “The low delayers don’t tend to activate the prefrontal cortex as much as the high delayers do. The high delayers are very effective at being able to regulate their behavior and not activating this deep system. There’s not as much of a push-and-pull for the high delayers.” This “push-and-pull” is common for many individuals struggling with anxiety and other mental health disorders. A 2005 article entitled “Impulsivity and mental disorders,” published in the Turkish Journal of Psychiatry, states that impulsivity is related to mental health disorders ranging from kleptomania to bipolar disorder. However, it “can [also] be a characteristic of normal behavior…” Some specialists in the field go as far as to suggest that low-delay individuals possess qualities integral to society with regard to innovation and exploration.
If you or a loved one is struggling with impulsivity or reckless behavior as it relates to mental health issues or addiction, help is available. Sovereign Health Group helps individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call at any time to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer