New brain scanning technology allows researchers to see how the brain works in the process of making decisions. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on research being conducted with children at the University of Minnesota that provides new insights into executive skills and emotional intelligence.
What can this research reveal about adult executive skills? Interestingly, the ability to make choices based on another person’s point of view emerges around the age of three or four years. While a three-year old will likely make the choice to take one marshmallow now instead of two marshmallows at a later time, the same three-year old will recommend that the adult researcher should wait for the two marshmallows. This shows that they understand delayed gratification even when they do not use their executive skills to make that choice. This behavior is observed by looking at brain scans of the prefrontal cortex as decisions are being made.
By four years old, children can make the delayed gratification choice and also understand that someone elses’ preference may be to take one marshmallow now.
There is strong evidence that people can be taught to be less impulsive and more considerate of the other person’s point of view even at a very young age. The ability to understand the other person’s point of view, think longer term, and control behavioral choices is seen as a way to make better decisions at all ages and even manage ADHD with a lessened need for medication.
This finding does not only apply to children. We see that the understanding of the other person’s point of view (OPPOV™) is a powerful awareness at any age to make better executive decisions.