Why does increasing assets indicate increasing resilience?

We visit a lot of farms trying to understand resilience. Sometimes, its hard to tell which farms are resilient and which farms aren’t.  One indicator of resilience stands out, though.  Productive assets are high and increasing.  Soil is high quality, covered nearly year round and increasing in quality.  Equipment is in good repair and usually the farmer has a new toy to show off.  If soil quality is increasing, types and quality of production and processing machinery are increasing, and water capture is being increased, farms are more likely to withstand disturbance and become more productive with fewer external inputs.

Young farmers often start with few material assets, yet somehow some manage to accumulate assets and become resilient.  Other young farmers start with multitudes of assets inherited from their parents, yet these assets dwindle over time until the farm no longer exists.  Why?

Some people just work harder than others is the answer given by many.  Steady, careful, hard work is associated with creating resilient systems.  Yet some work extremely hard at building up their farming operation and still fail.  Others don’t appear to work very hard at all and still manage to build assets and resilience.  Why?

Perhaps some of the answer lies in the concept of delayed gratification.  If a person spends his whole paycheck and saves nothing, he will accumulate no assets.  If a business owner takes all the profit in salary and makes no investment, the business will likely fail.  If a farmer plows steep slopes for grain crop profits and soil erodes after, he decreases his assets and the resilience of his farm.

This trait often emerges early. Those who delay gratification as 4 year olds will be more likely to achieve as adults.  But people of any age can learn to delay gratification.

Following is an annotated biography of relevant articles on delayed gratification and links to the articles.

“Intelligence is not the primary predictor of success. It is the ability to persevere in hardship, persist and learn after failure, and have a resilient spirit in the face of obstacles. Intelligence is a gift that can be developed and nurtured, but continuing on a difficult path when the gratification is far away? That is an invaluable skill for all of us to learn.”  Even though resilience is partly a genetic trait, you can teach this skill in the classroom.

“Grit, in psychology, is a positive non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a long-term goal. It conveys motivation and something more; the plus is a persistence that never concedes defeat. At full throttle, so researchers tell us, an individual with grit but inferior academic ability can outshine a person with a high IQ and less personal drive. In 1995, Daniel Goleman wrote in his international bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: “At best, IQ contributes about 20% to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80% to other forces.”

Nick Hurd, the Minister for civil society in England, suggested in August of 2014 that young people are failing to find work because they lack persistence, as well as social skills such as self-discipline that schools fail to inculcate.”

Carol Dweck, an American professor of psychology, has spent decades studying what constitutes motivation and grit. She has discovered that about 40% of American children have a fixed mindset, believing they are either bright, stupid or somewhere in between. They are convinced that this ranking is fixed and unchangeable. The result is a vast waste of talent that is detrimental to lifelong well-being and active citizenship.

She discovered that those who believe they are ‘dumb’ see no point in trying. Those who are deemed academically clever avoid stretching themselves unduly for fear of failure and slipping back down the ranks. The pupils who do flourish are those rich in self-belief who understand that intellectual skills are not naturally in their gift, but are assets that require hard work to develop. And that takes grit.”

As Professor Dweck points out: “IQ tests can measure current skills, but nothing can measure someone’s potential. It’s impossible to tell what people are capable of once they catch fire.”

In the 1960s, Stanford University researcher Walter Mischel came up with an elegantly simple method that showed the value of the ability to delay gratification. His study subjects were a group of four-year-old children.

Mischel offered each participant a large, puffy marshmallow but told them all that if they would wait for him to run an errand, they could have not one, but two, lovely marshmallows. The marshmallow was an excellent choice because it had not only the taste, but also the appearance and texture of a delectable treat. The little tykes squirmed in front of their marshmallows like dogs might whimper when told to stay while sitting in front of T-bone steaks dripping with meaty juices.

Some of the four-year-olds were able to control their impulse to snatch up and consume their marshmallows for the duration of Mischel’s 15–20-minute errand (which must have felt like several lifetimes for these four-year-olds). Others could not.

Mischel followed up with his subjects many years later and found that the ability to control impulses and delay gratification was associated with success in many different areas of life as an adult. For instance, those who delayed gratification were more self-motivated and more persistent in the face of obstacles. On average, they scored 210 points higher on SAT tests. Those who had quickly consumed the first marshmallow they were offered continued to have impulse-control problems in adulthood. Mischel characterized them as more troubled, stubborn, indecisive, and mistrustful, and less self-confident.

Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., and Rodriguez, M. (1989). “Delay of Gratification in Children.” Science, 244, 933-938.

Video of the marshmallow study.

In a follow-up study (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990), children were tested at 18 years of age and comparisons were made between the third of the children who grabbed the marshmallow (the “impulsive”) and the third who delayed gratification in order to receive the enhanced reward (“impulse controlled”).

The third of the children who were most impulsive at four years of age scored an average of 524 verbal and 528 math. The impulse controlled students who scored 610 verbal and 652 math! This astounding 210 point total score difference on the SAT was predicted on the basis of a single observation at four years of age! The 210 point difference is as large as the average differences between that of economically advantaged versus disadvantaged children and is larger than the difference between children from families with graduate degrees versus children whose parents did not finish high school! At four years of age gobbling a marshmallow now v. waiting for two later is twice as good a predictor of later SAT scores than is IQ.

Walter Mischel interview about the marshmallow study and delayed gratification.

During the dating phase of a relationship, waiting for a partner who is capable of maintaining a lifelong, happy marriage, and enjoying a long courtship with that person to really test mutual compatibility is an adult version of waiting for two marshmallows.

Delaying gratification refers to the tendency to forego strong immediate satisfaction for the sake of salient long-term rewards. Although most develop a burgeoning capacity to delay gratification by early adolescence, adulthood is marked by substantial individual differences in delay behavior. National Institutes of Health guidelines identify gratification delay as having a non-trivial impact upon public health, with six decades of research linking poor gratification delay to societal problems, including obesity, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, psychopathology, consumer debt, criminality, and low educational attainment.

In a nationally representative sample (n=900) of young people aged 14–22, a structural equation analysis shows that risk taking as assessed by use of three popular drugs (tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol) is inversely related to the ability to delay gratification. The relation is robust across gender, age, and different levels of sensation seeking.

Delayed Gratification Inventory: 35 item survey measuring people’s tendency to delay gratification in five domains: food, physical, social, money, achievement.

Making special tools, fires, clothing and shelters called for higher intelligence. Moving “Out of Africa” meant moving into a K-type life-history strategy. That meant higher IQ, larger brains, slower growth, and lower hormone levels. It also meant lower levels of sexuality, aggression, and impulsive behavior. More family stability, advanced planning, self-control, rule-following, and longevity were needed.

Because intelligence increased the chances of survival in harsh winter environments, the groups that left Africa had to evolve greater intelligence and family stability. This called for larger brains, slower growth rates, lower hormone levels, less sexual potency, less aggression, and less impulsivity. Advanced planning, self-control, rule-following, and longevity all increased in the non-Africans.

There has been something called the candy bar test that they do with young kids around age 6 or so. They have been doing it with White and Black kids since the 1960’s. The test says you can have one candy bar now or you can wait a week and get three candy bars, something along those lines. Well the White kids are much more likely to wait a week for the three bars and the Black kids are much more likely to say give me the candy bar now, screw waiting a week.

My understanding is that the test has been repeated numerous times with White and Black kids since the 1960’s, and the result every time is exactly the same. The test has also been done in both the Caribbean and the US. I believe at this point, they have done the test so many times and gotten the same result that people are saying they do are getting tired of doing the test because it always comes out the same.

That evidence, along with the painfully obvious evidence staring you right in the face here in multiethnic US, indicates to me that Blacks on average have a low ability to delay gratification compared to Whites, and I assume based on the candy bar test that it is genetic.

White households in the United States are far wealthier than black or Hispanic households, a disparity that remains unexplained even after taking intoaccount income and demographic factors. 

In 2009, a representative survey of American households revealed that the median wealth of white families was $113,149 compared with $6,325 for Latino families and $5,677 for black families.

Looking at the same set of families over a 25-year period (1984-2009), our research offers key insight into how policy and the real, lived-experience of families in schools, communities, and at work affect wealth accumulation. Tracing the same households during that period, the total wealth gap between white and African-American families nearly triples, increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.

The percentage of participants who chose the $3800 option when they were asked to choose between $3400 this month or $3800 next month was highest in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Nordic countries and lowest in Africans. 


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