That’s because we place a higher value on what we are waiting for — and that higher value makes us more patient, say researchers at the University of Chicago.
And that patience can pay off for consumers by helping them make better decisions, said Dr. Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing.
Historically, research on patience has been approached by offering people the choice between a smaller reward now or a larger reward later. Given the choice between $10 now or $15 later, for instance, many people choose the $10, even though it makes them less well-off financially, the researcher notes.
“People tend to value things more in the present and discount their worth in the future,” Fishbach said. “But my research suggests that making people wait to make a decision can improve their patience because the process of waiting makes the reward for waiting seem more valuable.”
For the study, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in the U.S., mainland China and Hong Kong.
In one study, they invited participants to sign up to participate in online studies. In exchange for signing up, all participants were invited to enter one of two lotteries: One would pay out a $50 prize sooner; the other would pay out a $55 prize later.
The participants were divided into three groups, each having to wait a different amount of time before given their potential prize. The first group was told they could win $50 in three days or $55 in 23 days; the second could win $50 in 30 days or $55 in 50 days; and the third group was told they had to wait before making their decision.
The researchers contacted members of the third group 27 days later to ask for a decision. They were given the same choice as the first group: Potentially win $50 in three days or wait and receive $55 in 23 days.
The researchers found that in the first group only 31 percent of participants chose to wait for the larger reward. In the second group, that number rose to 56 percent.
But among people in the third group, who had already been waiting several weeks to make their choice, 86 percent chose to wait for the larger reward.
Even though they were making the same choice as people in the first group, the fact that they had been waiting to choose increased their patience, according to the researchers.
“When people wait, it makes them place a higher value on what they’re waiting for, and that higher value makes them more patient,” Fishbach said.
“They see more value in what they are waiting for because of a process psychologists call self-perception — we learn what we want and prefer by assessing our own behavior, much the same way we learn about others by observing how they behave.”
Co-authored with former postdoctoral fellow Xiani Dai, Ph.D., the study was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.