Rituals Improve Children's Ability to Delay Gratification

Veronika Rybanska, Ryan McKay, Jonathan Jong, Harvey Whitehouse

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To be accepted into social groups, individuals must internalize and reproduce appropriate group conventions, such as rituals. The copying of such rigid and socially stipulated behavioral sequences places heavy demands on executive function. Given previous research showing that challenging executive functioning improves it, it was hypothesized that engagement in ritualistic behaviors improves children's executive functioning, in turn improving their ability to delay gratification. A 3-month circle time games intervention with 210 schoolchildren (Mage = 7.78 years, SD = 1.47) in two contrasting cultural environments (Slovakia and Vanuatu) was conducted. The intervention improved children's executive function and in turn their ability to delay gratification. Moreover, these effects were amplified when the intervention task was imbued with ritual, rather than instrumental, cues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349–359
Number of pages11
JournalChild Development
Issue number2
Early online date18 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

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