Bankers seeking reliable information about a consumer's creditworthiness might consider a popular pantry item: marshmallows.

Researchers have found a link between consumers with poor credit scores and a desire for instant gratification, according to a study scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The ability to delay gratification, also known as self-regulation, is a key behavioral skill that psychologists and others have studied for decades.

In one classic (and delicious) 1960s study, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel (now at Columbia University) and his colleagues sat nursery school-aged kids alone in a room with a marshmallow. The children were told that if they could resist eating the chewy, sugary morsel until the researcher returned to the room a few minutes later, they could have two marshmallows instead of one.

To his surprise, Mischel later found an unexpected correlation between the kids' ability to hold off eating the marshmallow and success later in life, including higher SAT scores.

In the new study on credit scores, researchers from Columbia Business School and Stanford University found that low-to-moderate income participants who were the most willing to delay rewards on a questionnaire had FICO scores roughly 30 points higher than participants least willing to delay.

To test participants' resolve, researchers asked them a series of questions about their preference for taking various sums of money at different times. For example, would participants prefer $75 now versus $80 in a month or six months or seven months? How about $40 today versus $80 in a month or six months or seven months?

"Conceptually, it does make sense that how people discount the future, i.e. how impatient they are, affects their decision to default on their loans," said researcher Stephan Meier, a professor at Columbia Business School, in a press release detailing the study, which was recently previewed in a Psychology Today blog

Impatient participants' credit scores fell below the subprime lending cutoff, meaning they are likely to face higher interest rates to borrow.

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