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Study finds people become patient by waiting

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Recent research found people who wait become more patient

In an increasingly fast-paced society that craves instant gratification over having to wait, patience can indeed seem like a difficult virtue to attain. But a new study has found that waiting can actually make people more patient and, at the same time, provide a reward by helping them make wiser decisions.

Previous research on patience typically involved asking study participants to choose between receiving a smaller reward sooner or a larger reward later. For example, if asked to choose between getting $10 now or $15 later, many participants would choose to receive $10 now, even though it would leave them with less money later. In other words, they'd end up less financially well-off had they chosen to receive $15 later.

"People tend to value things more in the present and discount their worth in the future," said study co-author Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "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."

Fishbach co-authored the study with former Chicago Booth postdoctoral fellow Xiani Dai, which was recently in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes under the title, "When Waiting to Choose Increases Patience".

For the study, Fishbach and Dai conducted a series of experiments in the United States, Hong Kong and China. In one experiment, they asked participants to sign up to join a subject pool for online studies. In exchange for signing up, the participants were invited to enter one of two lotteries: 1) one that paid out a $50 prize sooner; and 2) another that paid out a $55 prize later.

Next, the participants were divided into three groups, with each one having to wait a different amount of time before receiving their potential prize:

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1. The first group was told they could win $50 in three days, or $55 in 23 days.

2. The second could win $50 in 30 days, or $55 in 50 days; and

3. The third group was told they could win $50 in 30 days, or $55 in 50 days, but they had to wait before choosing a potential reward.

The researchers then contacted members of the third group 27 days later, asking them (like those in the first group were asked) to choose between waiting for 3 days or for 23 days to receive their potential reward.

In the first group, only 31 percent of the participants chose to wait for the larger reward, whereas 56 percent of those in the second group made the same decision.

However, in the third group of participants who had been waiting several weeks to make their choice, 86 percent chose to wait for the larger reward – and, even though the third group was making the same choice as the first group ($50 in three days or $55 in 23 days), the fact that participants in the third group had been waiting to choose, increased their patience.

"When people wait, it makes them place a higher value on what they're waiting for, and that higher value makes them more patient," Fishbach says. "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."

SOURCE: University of Chicago Booth School of Business