The effects of energy levels and rewards on self-control among children are explored. An experimental procedure in which 10 participants were involved was used in this study. The participants were children aged 3-5 years from the kindergarten class at the YMCA Child Care Centre. The findings show that high energy levels are associated with high levels of self-control among children, and that in individuals with high innate self-control, the effects of energy levels are negligible. Similarly, rewards have been seen to promote self-control behaviors among children. There is, however, no evidence of the effects of the exposing rewards or covering rewards.
Effects of Energy Levels and Rewards on Self-Control among Children
Self-control is defined as the ability to regulate individual behavior, attitudes, emotions, and attention. This attribute is mostly developed during childhood and is increasingly enhanced into childhood. The ability to control oneself is determined by various factors in childhood through adulthood, and understanding the specific factors that influence self-control is essential towards understanding how to leverage various processes towards attaining the benefits of self-control. Self-control can be learned. In children, teachers play an essential role in training self-control through various activities and their interactions with children. For children at a young age, the practice of self-control has been linked to various mediating factors. In a classroom set-up, for instance, it has been shown that energy levels and the eminent reward influence self-control among children, whereby both high energy levels and reward potential are associated with high levels of self-control.
In this study, the concept of self-control among children in kindergarten was explored. The objective of the study was to determine the influence of energy levels and rewards on the self-control behavior of children. The null hypothesis was that:
The alternative hypothesis for this study was that:
To effectively evaluate the hypotheses, the reward variable was modified in two different ways. The first characterization involved using a visible reward, that is, toys exposed to the participant group. The second characterization was through the use of toys hidden from the group but with clear participant information. The energy levels variable was explored based on group participations before and after lunch.
The rest of this paper is as follows: the second section is the literature review section, which presents an overview of past literatures on the subject. The literature review section is followed by the methods section, which describes the participants and the research methodologies. This is followed by the results section, which presents the study findings. Thereafter, the discussion section is presented whereby the findings are analyzed. The last section is the conclusion section, which presents a recap of the paper contents.
The link between self-control and various factors such as energy level and the presence of a reward has been explored by different scholars in the past. For instance, Mulder et al. (2019) describe self-control as a voluntary behavior in which motivation plays a crucial role in the choice between alternative actions. Children can choose to either practice self-control or not depending on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors. In this study, the presence of rewards is considered as the extrinsic motivation factor that can influence children’s decision to practice self-control. On the other hand, energy levels are considered as the intrinsic motivation that can drive self-control among children. Tao, Wang, Fan, and Gao (2014) contend that individuals with a strong intrinsic motivation, defined as good self-control, engage in tasks more attentively, and their behaviors are characterized with careful planning and good control, indicating better self-control capabilities in the absence of any promises of external rewards. On the other hand, individuals with low intrinsic motivation are more likely to exhibit heightened self-control in the presence of a probable reward (Tao et al., 2014). These findings show that the energy level and the reward variables are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the self-control variable can be considered as a function of a combination of two mutually-exclusive factors. Therefore, the subsequent sub-sections describe the consideration of the independent effects of the two variables on self-control.
Energy Levels and Self-Control
Various studies on the impacts of energy levels on self-control among young children have been conducted. In a study conducted by Miller et al. (2010), it was reported that human self-control depends on biological mechanisms such as the presence of glucose in the bloodstream. The presence of glucose indicates high energy levels, and was reported to result in high self-control. Similarly, a study by Gailliot (2013) reported that the levels of hunger determined the levels of self-control among participants. In the study, Gailliot (2013) used hunger as the indicator of low energy levels. He also used performance in a Stroop task as the indicator for self-control and attention. The combination of the two findings, therefore, shows a positive correlation between self-control and the energy levels possessed by a participant.
Besides experimental procedures that use hunger or food consumption as an indicator of energy levels in participants, other studies have used internal motivation as the determinant of self-control. Particularly, some studies have shown a cause-effect relationship between self-control and energy levels, explained through hunger. Puiu (2018), for instance, reported that individuals with high self-control levels consistently exhibit high energy and are not prone to feelings of hunger. This finding confirms that while low energy levels can result in low self-control, high self-control can sufficiently limit feelings of low energy.
Presence of Rewards and Self-Control
The relationship between the presence of a reward and the practice of self-control among children can be explained through various behavior modification theories. A study of the impacts of reward systems on self-control described self-control as having aversive outcomes, and the presence of rewards as a strategy for countermanding those aversive outcomes (Kelley, Finley, & Schmeichel, 2019). Reward-based motivational systems are recognized for their roles in facilitating an approach response to reward and an avoidance response to threats. The same systems can be used to initiate a positive (approach) response to rewards through the practice of self-control among individuals (Kelley et al., 2019). In children, Mischel, Ebbesen, and Zeiss (1972) discussed the achievement of self-control through the use of suppressive and avoidance mechanisms, whereby the presence of a reward was used to explain these mechanisms. Children were found to be more prone to showing self-control tendencies when they were assured of a reward even though the rewards may not be directly before them. This is an indication of the role of rewards in self-control motivation. It is also deductible that for children, the absence or limited display of intrinsic motivation is substituted by the need for external (reward-based) motivation, which enhances self-control. Tao et al. (2014) confirm the role of the intrinsic motivation towards self-control as an effective measure towards enhancing non-reward based profitability.
Studies on theories of self-control have described the concept based on various frameworks including the process model of self-control, integrative self-control model, and self-control as a value-based choice, among others. The integrative self-control model and self-control as a value-based choice theory are the most commonly used concepts for explaining the role of rewards in facilitating self-control (Kelley et al., 2019). According to Kelley et al. (2019), the integrative self-control model aligns behavioral consequences to long-term gratification. For children, the long-term gratification results from the feeling of earning various toys. Thus, children would be motivated to change their behaviors in alignment with the proper self-control requirements. These theories can be used to explain the self-control outcomes in children following this study.
The studies explored in this literature review have provided adequate evidence of the correlations between self-control and energy levels and rewards. However, a gap still exists in literature in that very few studies have focused on children as the participants. This study, addresses this gap through the use of kindergarten students as the participants in the experiment.
To attain the intended outcomes of this study, a quantitative approach was selected. A total of 20 participants were involved in the experiments.
The participants of this study were 10 children from the YMCA Child Care Center. All the children belonged in the kindergarten class and were included randomly based on individual willingness to participate and on a first-come-first-served basis.
The experimental set-up consisted of two mounds of toys, one of which was covered. The toys were to be used for the reward. Additionally, writing materials and stopwatches were used.
The administration of the center was informed of the intention to conduct research at the center and to work with the children. The class teacher was also requested to allow the experimental activity to progress for one hour, 30 minutes before lunch and 30 minutes after lunch. To work with the children, an open request was placed before the children in the kindergarten classroom for all those who were willing to volunteer.
During the experiment, a group of five children was allowed to sit around each of the mounds for the initiation of the experiment. The children were informed that any of them who managed to sit still would be rewarded with a toy. In group one, the toys were visible; however, in group two, the toys were covered. The children were then observed for 30 minutes, and the time it took for each of them to break their self-control was recorded. The same procedure was repeated after lunch and results recorded. The same group who participated in the activity before lunch participated in the activity after lunch, the groups were retained.
The results obtained are as shown in table 1 below. To ensure confidentiality, the findings were recorded anonymously, with the names of the children coded to hide their identity. Table 1 shows the time taken before each child touches the toys during the before lunch and after lunch sessions. From the table, it is observable that participants S1 to S5 participated in the uncovered groups both before and after lunch. Similarly, participants S6 to S10 participated in the groups in which the toys to be used as rewards were covered. The variations in the time taken before touching the toys are also clear in the table.
Table 1: Duration of self-control in minutes
|Children||Before Lunch||After Lunch|
The data above was subjected to analysis using the single-factor ANOVA to determine the correlation between the different categories of data. The ANOVA results are as shown in table 2.
Table 2: ANOVA results
|Anova: Single Factor|
|Source of Variation||SS||df||MS||F||P-value||F crit|
From the results, the variations on the time scores for the children are observable. The children in the group in which the toys were uncovered during the session before lunch had significantly higher scores than those in the group with the toys covered during the same session. On the other hand, the group with the toys covered, had a higher self-control time span compared to the group whose toys were uncovered in the afternoon session. This finding confirms that there is variation in self-control as a result of the promise of reward, as discussed by various studies. Particularly, this finding shows that rewards have variable effects on the exhibition of self-control depending on whether they are observable or not. Where the rewards are uncovered, the participants are already aware of what the rewards would be, and hence, their self-control is not further regulated by the curiosity to know what the rewards are. On the other hand, individuals in groups where the rewards were covered could also be motivated to practice self-control for longer durations due to the curiosity of knowing what the rewards would be. This curiosity could also be the limiting factor in the groups where the toys were covered in that some of the participants could probably be moved by curiosity to break their self-control. This finding, therefore, shows that while there could be a motivating effect of rewards on self-control, the visibility of the rewards or lack thereof, does not have a definite impact on the direction of influence.
Various studies have shown that children in the age 3-5 years old such as those who were engaged in this study have a limited attention or self-control time spans. Particularly, Mulder et al. (2019) report that children in this age bracket can self-regulate for a span of approximately 3 minutes depending on age. This study shows an average self-regulation duration of 11.4 minutes and 8.8 minutes for the group with uncovered toys and those with covered toys in the pre-lunch session; and 12.4 minutes and 12.6 minutes during the after lunch session. It is, therefore, deductible that the attention duration exceeded the normal self-regulation span in such children, providing evidence of the influence of rewards in general.
This finding can be explained based on the theory of self-control as a value-based choice. In the theory, the self-control concept is presented as a choice that people make progressively. Kelley et al. (2019) report that people perform risk benefit analyses when making choices related to self-regulation. The consistent practice of self-control is thus linked to the perceived benefits that would be gained from it. For the children, this perceived benefit presents in the form of the toys that are provided as rewards for self-control. The uncovered toys mean that the children can evaluate the magnitude of perceived benefits. That is, whether the toys they see are desirable to them or not. The covered toys still have an element of mystery, and the participants are in a continuous state of balancing their thoughts. Therefore, they are more likely to yearn for the rewards they are assured of yet cannot see in real-time.
From the summary, it is also evident that the average scores in terms of time taken before touching the toys was higher during the after-lunch session compared to the session conducted in the morning. The results confirm that the energy levels determine the level of self-control. The children were generally calmer and took significantly longer durations before reaching out for the toys during the after-lunch session. These outcomes are in tandem with various previous findings which showed that high energy levels were positively correlated with the levels of self-control. To determine the countermanding effect of good self-control on hunger, differences in the levels of self-control among individuals were also reviewed. Participants such as S2, S7, and S8, who showed consistently high performance in self-regulation, confirm that intrinsic self-control could also be present in individuals, and can help eliminate the effects of low energy in their participation in activities. These results, therefore, confirm the cause-effect relationship between self-control and energy levels. Thus, it is conclusive from these findings that while high energy levels result in high self-control, individuals with intrinsic self-control do not display the effects of differences in energy levels in their performance.
The ANOVA-single factor results show an F value (0.537) smaller than the F critical (3.239), which is an indication that the means of the examined variables are almost equal hence the null hypothesis is accepted. This finding also aligns with the previously discussed reports on the effects of energy levels and rewards on self-control among children. In this study, the null hypothesis indicated a positive correlation between energy levels and the presence of a reward, as well as the level of self-control exhibited by the participants. The null hypothesis is thus accepted while the alternative hypothesis is rejected.
The objective of this study was to explore the impacts of rewards and energy levels of children on their self-control capabilities. The null hypothesis indicated that high energy levels and the presence of rewards had a positive effect on the self-control capability among children. Ten participants were involved at the YMCA Child Care Center in a self-control experimental activity, whereby they were assured of rewards following prolonged self-restrain against touching the toys. To evaluate the effects of energy levels on the degree of self-control among the participants, the experiments were run in two sessions, one before lunch and the other after lunch. The findings from the experimental process are aligned to the findings from literature, which indicate a positive relationship between the presence of rewards and self-control. However, the relationship between the exposure of rewards or lack thereof and self-control was not confirmed. Similarly, the study confirms that there is a positive relationship between energy levels and self-control in children. Furthermore, evidence is provided to show that in specific individuals with innate self-control, the effects of high or low energy levels are negligible. These findings confirm the null hypothesis.
The study findings can be applied in self-control training activities both within the home setting and in classrooms. Teachers can use rewards to promote self-control in pedagogical settings and also understand differences in self-control among children. The only limitations of this study include the small sample size and the lack of a control group treatment. A control group without any rewards or fluctuations in energy levels could be used to determine the magnitude of effect of both factors on self-control.
Gailliot, M. T. (2013). Hunger and reduced self-control in the laboratory across the world: Reducing hunger as a self-control Panacea. Psychology, 4(1), 59-66. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269798288_Hunger_and_Reduced_Self-Control_in_the_Laboratory_and_across_the_World_Reducing_Hunger_as_a_Self-Control_Panacea
Kelley, N. J., Finley, A. J., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2019). After-effects of self-control: The reward responsivity hypothesis. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 19, 600-618. https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13415-019-00694-3
Miller, H., Pattison, K., DeWall, C., Rayburn-Reeves, R., & Zentall, T. (2010). Self-control without a “self? Psychological Science, 21(4), 534-538. doi: 10.1177/0956797610364968
Mulder, H., van Ravenswaaij, H., Verhagen, J., Moerbeek, M., & Leseman, P. P. M. (2019). The process of early self-control: an observational study in two- and three-year-olds. Metacognition and Learning, 14, 239-264. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11409-019-09199-3
Mischel, W., Ebbesen, E., & Zeiss, R.A. (1972).Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21(2), 204-218. doi: 10.1037/h0032198
Puiu, T. (2018, August 8). People with self-control feel less hunger, fatigue, and stress: Having willpower makes you less susceptible to visceral states. ZME Science.https://www.zmescience.com/science/news-science/self-control-hunger-fatigue-stress-0543543/
Tao, T., Wang, L., Fan, C., &Gao, W. (2014). Development of self-control in children aged 3 to 9 years: Perspective from a dual-systems model. Scientific Reports, 4, 7272.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5377018/
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