Waiting Builds Patience -- And Leads To Smarter Decision-Making

In a world of instant gratification, it can seem like the concept of "waiting" is on the verge of extinction. But learning to wait builds character and could even improve decision-making skills, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that the act of waiting increases patience, and that patience seems to help people make smarter decisions about money. "When people wait, it makes them place a higher value on what they're waiting for, and that higher value makes them more patient," study researcher Ayelet Fishbach said in a statement. "They see more value in what they are waiting for because of a process psychologists call self-perception -- we learn what we want and prefer by assessing our own behavior, much the same way we learn about others by observing how they behave."

The study, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, included five experiments. For one of the experiments, researchers had study participants sign up to participate in online studies in exchange for getting to be part of a money lottery. The participants could choose whether they wanted to be part of a lottery that would involve winning $50 at a sooner date, or a lottery that would involve winning $55 at a later date.

Then, researchers split the study participants up into three groups. In the first group, participants were told that they could either wait just three days to win $50, or wait longer -- 23 days -- to win $55. In the second group, participants were told they could wait 30 days to win $50, or wait 50 days to win $55.

The third group was told they could wait 30 days to win $50 or 50 days to win $55, but they would need to wait several days before making the decision of whether they wanted to wait shorter for the $50 or longer for the $55. This group ended up waiting 27 days before researchers contacted them asking what choice they wanted to make -- at which point, they only had to wait three more days to get the $50, or 23 more days to get the $55.

Thirty-one percent of people in the first group decided to wait the extra time for the extra $5, while 56 percent of people in the second group decided to wait the extra time for the extra money. However, nearly all the people in the third group -- 86 percent -- decided to wait the extra time for the money. Researchers chalked this up to their having already waited 27 days before getting to make their decision -- in other words, they waited this long already, so why not wait a little more to get the additional payout?

"People tend to value things more in the present and discount their worth in the future," Fishbach said in the statement. "But my research suggests that making people wait to make a decision can improve their patience because the process of waiting makes the reward for waiting seem more valuable."

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