Motivation, Stress, Self-Control Ability, and Self-Control Behavior of Preschool Children in China
Wang, Aimin, Karns, Jeanne T., Meredith, William M., Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Abstract. A total of 216 children were videotaped during a 10-minute delay of gratification research task at a university laboratory observation room. Children were instructed to play with only a familiar building toy and to delay playing with a highly attractive novel toy. A 2 (levels of motivation) by 2 (levels of stress of self control) factorial experimental design was employed. Children were randomly selected from the 600 children at the center and randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. Videotapes were continuously coded, and total duration of time in noncompliance was calculated. Results indicated that high motivation produced less noncompliant behavior, while high stress produced more noncompliant behavior. Girls exhibited less noncompliant behavior than did boys. Implications were discussed for factors contributing to the prosocial behavior of self-control.
Self-control has been considered a complex concept (Lopatto & Williams, 1976), and traditionally viewed as a personality trait, such as willpower (e.g., Freud, 1922). Skinner (1953), employing the principles of operant conditioning, viewed self-control as a behavior relevant to the individual's history of reinforcement and the present situation. It has been approached as behavior modification in the operant paradigm (Nye, 1992), understood as something that could developthrough modeling (e.g., Bandura & Mischel, 1965), and studied as learning based on an avoidance paradigm (i.e., avoidance of unpleasant consequences) (Premack &Anglin, 1973). Regardless of the different understandings of the concept, researchers consistently have agreed on the important role that self-control plays. For example, Harter (1983) points to self-control as one of the most historically efficient means of ensuring that social and moral order are sustained. Mischel and Mischel (1983) treated self-control, or self-regulation, "as a cor e aspect of human functioning, basic to virtually all conceptions of personality" (p. 603).
Self-control as a distinguishing characteristic has been consistently reported by researchers studying successful individuals. It was also reported as a relatively consistent characteristic across different aspects of behaviors of an individual (Kendall & Wilcox, 1979; Kendall, Zupan, & Braswell, 1981). Young children who delayed gratification were shown to have positive personality characteristics when older, such as being deliberative, attentive, reasonable, reserved, cooperative, intelligent, resourceful, and competent (Funder & Block, 1989; Funder, Block, & Block, 1983). Preschoolers who preferred delay of gratification to immediate rewards were found to have high cognitive and academic competence, as well as an improved ability to cope with frustration and stress in high school (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990). Children who waited longer in a delayed gratification situation at 4 years of age were found to be more academically and socially competent, more able to cope with frustration, and more resistant t o temptation than their peers 10 years later (Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988).
Chinese scholars also have explored this topic. In one of the earliest scientific research studies regarding self-control in China, He and his colleagues observed elementary school students' development of self-regulation (He, Tu, Yu, & Chia, 1962). Those researchers described four stages of development regarding self-regulation in classrooms, as well as the processes contributing to the formation of habits from no control to self-control. Although the concept of motivation was not directly used in the research, the relation between understanding the importance of self-control behavior and the motivation of self-control behavior could be detected as one of the key channels through which the processes of understanding would facilitate students' selfcontrol behavior.
For historical and political reasons, no similar research studies were conducted until the 1980s (Liu, 1990). …