Researchers from the University of Rochester suggest that children raised in poverty may have been mistakenly labeled as “maladapted” for what appears to be a lack of self-control. The new study finds that what looks like selfishness may actually be beneficial behavior that’s based on a child’s environmental context–that is to say, from being raised in a resource-poor environment.
The classic 1970s “marshmallow tests” assessed impulse control in preschoolers. Children were given a choice to take a single marshmallow immediately, or to wait several minutes and earn two of the puffy treats as a reward. Children who displayed an apparent lack of self-control–demonstrated by taking the single treat–were deemed “maladapted.” Follow-up studies identified children who are raised in poverty are far less likely to postpone such sweet temptations than their economically better-off counterparts.