Aging Clinical and Experimental Research

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 6–14 | Cite as

Delay of gratification in old age: assessment, age-related effects, and clinical implications

  • Reinhard DrobetzEmail author
  • Andreas Maercker
  • Simon Forstmeier
Review Article


Delay of gratification (DoG), the ability to reject immediately available smaller rewards in favor of later larger rewards, has been a topic of continuous research interest for almost 60 years. Although numerous studies have explored this construct and its effects on wellbeing, social behavior, cognitive abilities, and academic success in children, DoG studies in adulthood and old age are scarce. Instead, delay discounting (DD), that is, the degree to which individuals devalue delayed rewards, has been used in samples of adults and older individuals, and is of particular interest in clinical studies. Findings from DD research suggest that the preference for delayed rewards increases from childhood to early adulthood, and then decreases from middle age to old age. The main aim of this review is to elucidate the importance of DoG in adulthood and old age. First, the review explores the theoretical status of DoG by specifying the relationships and distinctions between DoG and related constructs. Second, it provides an overview of DoG measurements, from traditional to novel. Third, the effects of DoG on development and wellbeing are explored. Fourth, age-related differences in DoG are summarized. Lastly, the review closes with conclusions, clinical implications, and the outlook for possible further research directions.

Key words

Age-related differences assessment of delay of gratification delay discounting delay of gratification self-regulation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Internal Publishing Switzerland 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reinhard Drobetz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andreas Maercker
    • 1
  • Simon Forstmeier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Psychopathology and Clinical InterventionUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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