Approximately 50 years ago, a piece of research was conducted at Stanford University which resulted in a greater understanding of the role gratification plays in the development of children’s education.

During a study into understanding child behaviour, a number of young children were led into a room and each given a marshmallow which they could eat straight away or wait for the researcher to return from an errand to reward them with an additional one should they manage to refrain from eating it.

Observed by staff through a spy mirror, some children ate the marshmallow straight away while others put up a brave fight, by turning away to face a wall so they wouldn’t have to look at it (though ultimately failed). However, some children managed to refrain with ease. Sitting there with the marshmallow in front of them with no interest in it at all – their mind was set on acquiring the prize of a second marsh mallow.

Now, fast forward 10+ years and a follow-up piece of research on the same sample of pupils was conducted, looking at their educational results. While there are always exceptions to the rule, what was generally found was that those who were able to defer gratification did significantly better in their tests than those who could not – that is, the ones who devoured the marshmallow before the door was barely closed also struggled to discipline themselves to study. In short, those who could delay gratification, did their homework, revised for exams, worked hard in class because their minds were set on a much larger goal than momentary satisfaction. Those who had not mastered their immediate desire, had less discipline in regard to preparation for exams, etc with the result they did less well.

So what has this got to do with coronavirus?

Well, everything actually! Just like the pupils who could defer gratifying desire in a way that their peers could not, we see this also occurs in the response to Covid lockdown and the lifting of some of the initial measures.

Here, in the UK, the initial relaxation of isolation measures resulted in almost 500,000 people crowding onto a beach on the south coast. The government – who had not anticipated this (though should have done) –  had to clarify further as to what constituted a sensible number which was 6 in a back garden. Something that those who didn’t attend the beach that day knew already. Why? Because their desire to survive overruled any momentary thoughts they might have had for self gratification by seeking the higher prize of not contracting the disease or dying.

On the other hand, those who rail against the limitation of lockdown, argue their rights, engage in large gatherings without masks (etc) and  have no such larger goal in sight because the mindset of gratification (like eating a marshmallow) takes precedence and to paraphrase a few I’ve met that they are ‘Fed up’ and/or ‘Done with all this lockdown!’  Obviously, some disciplined people will contract the virus , despite their best efforts not to, However, it is those who would prefer to think the virus fake or less serious than reported, who feed a mindset that seeks gratification at all cost. A high price to pay for want of self-discipline.