Instant vs. Delayed Gratification



Do you find yourself leapfrogging between Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat while you are waiting for updates? Do you kill websites that take too long to load content? You are not alone. Studies show that 47 percent of consumers expect a website to load in two seconds or less, and a further 40 percent abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. Enter instant gratification. Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay, and it is not new. In fact, it is an evolutionary survival trait.

One of the most primitive elements of our brains is the limbic system. It is where we make value judgments, often unconsciously, and it exerts such a strong influence on our behavior. Our evolutionary history drives us to seek immediate rewards because our inimical environments made food scarce. Like other animals, humans learned that to survive and reproduce they had to seize smaller, immediate rewards when the opportunity was presented.

Our vulnerability developed instant gratification into a survival mechanism. This survival mechanism manifests itself in many ways in myriad contexts. Poverty, abuse, danger, and emotional distress can all trigger this survival mechanism. It is akin to the fight or flight response. Think about instant gratification in the context of a hungry refugee fleeing from a war zone. Offered a choice between immediate food and shelter or a future promise of safe passage, which option would he or she pick?

The opposite of instant gratification is delayed gratification. Delayed gratification places a premium on future rewards in lieu of immediate rewards.

A Washington University study using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI, found that when people waited for a reward, there was increased activity in the anterior prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps you imagine the future. The ability to perceive future rewards drives patience, and a society with no patience will denigrate quickly. Think about that! How often do you actually dig beyondheadlines or sound bites?

Snappy sound bites rarely make good policy. It requires patience to read, understand, and rationalize arguments. The reward is well-informed choice.

Instant gratification is not completely evil, and delayed gratification is not altogether practical. Delayed gratification can turn pizza cold. It falls on us to choose when we succumb to immediate temptation or forestall it for a greater reward. Make good choices!