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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1986, 126(1), 117-119



Department of Sociology University of New South Wales, Australia


Department of Anthropology and Sociology University of Queensland, Australia

LEARNING TO DEFER GRATIFICATION has been perceived as both a significant influence on child development and as an explanation of middle-class hegemony. The demand for instant gratification is seen as a sign of immaturity and is believed to account for the limited upward mobility of those with their origins in the working class (Funder, Block, & Block, 1983; Koenig, Swanson, & Harter, 1980). It seems reasonable to suggest that those who invest in their futures either by saving their financial resources or by engaging in protracted periods of education are more likely to be achievers and to be successful.

Deferment of gratification has typically been measured as part of an experiment. A child may be asked if he or she wants half an apple now or a whole apple tomorrow, and the answer is assumed to reflect a general tendency to defer or not. Unfortunately, Wormith and Hasenpusch (1979) showed that questions of this type yield answers that are essentially uncorrelated. Is there, then, such a thing as a general trait of deferment of gratification?

In an attempt to answer this, a set of 18 items typically used to measure deferment of gratification were administered to a random doorstep sample of 209 people in the Australian city of Brisbane. Of these, 6 items were found to have no correlation with the other items at all. Among the 6 were such classical items as "When you were a child, if you had been offered the choice of getting a big chocolate (or other sweet) tomorrow versus getting a small chocolate today, do you think you would have chosen to wait for the bigger one tomorrow?" The remaining items did, however, form a scale of acceptable reliability (alpha = .72). Even these 12 items showed a mean interitem correlation of only .17. Clearly, any one item measured very little of a generalizable nature, and a large set of items was needed if any sort of general trait was to be picked out. As an additive scale, the 12 items showed a mean of 27.43 (SD = 5.03), with three response options per question. Pro-deferment items (Numbers l, 2, 3, 8, 11, and 12) were scored 3 for yes and 1 for no. The remainder were scored in reverse. The 12 generalizing items follow:

1. Are you good at saving your money rather than spending it straight away?
2. Do you enjoy a thing all the more because you have had to wait for it and plan for it?
3. Did you tend to save your pocket-money as a child?
4. When you are in a supermarket do you tend to buy a lot of things you hadn't planned to buy?
5. Are you constantly "broke"?
6. Do you agree with the philosophy: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may be all dead"?
7. Would you describe yourself as often being too impulsive for your own good?
8. Do you fairly often find that it is worthwhile to wait and think things over before deciding?
9. Do you like to spend your money as soon as you get it?
10. Is it hard for you to keep from blowing your top when someone gets you very angry?
11. Can you tolerate being kept waiting for things fairly easily most of the time?
12. Are you good at planning things way in advance?


Funder, D. C., Block, J. H., & Block, J. (1983). Delay of gratification: Some longitudinal personality correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 1198-1213.

Koenig, F., Swanson, W, & Harter, C. (1980). Future orientation and social status. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51, 927-930.

Wormith, J. S., & Hasenpusch, B. (1979). Multidimensional measurement of delayed gratification preference with incarcerated offenders. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 35(1), 218-225.

Received March 18, 1985


Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.

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