“I’ll do it when the snow melts”: The effects of deadlines and delayed outcomes on rule-governed behavior in preschool children
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This study examined the control exerted by different types of rules on the behavior of preschool children. Four similar rules were presented to eight, four-year-old children, using a multielement design. The contingencies the rules described varied in the specification of deadlines and in the delays in the delivery of the reinforcers. The results showed (a) rules specifying only response requirements did not reliably control behavior, (b) rules specifying an immediate deadline with the immediate delivery of a reinforcer exerted reliable control, (c) rules specifying an immediate deadline with a one-week delay in the delivery of the reinforcer also exerted reliable control, and (d) rules specifying no deadline with a one-week delay in the delivery of the reinforcer exerted little control. These results suggest that a rule’s specification of a deadline is crucial in its control of behavior, but the delay of the reinforcer is of little importance. This latter conclusion further suggests that problems in self-control do not result from delayed outcomes or the inablity to delay gratification, contrary to conventional wisdom.
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