PARENTING
12/01/2014 02:43 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Watching Cookie Monster Can Improve A Child's Self-Control

Michelle O'Connell Photography/Flickr

Cookie Monster has not generally been associated with self-control, but his recent journey toward patience is rubbing off on children, a study from the University of Iowa found.

Last year, "Sesame Street" began a curriculum of self-regulation, in which Cookie Monster waits before guzzling cookies. Deborah L. Linebarger at the University of Iowa Children's Media Lab led a study using these new clips to see if children would mimic Cookie Monster's good behavior.

First, children would watch this clip of Cookie Monster displaying self-control:

They were then given the Marshmallow Test, where children are placed in front of a marshmallow and told they could get another treat if they wait a certain amount of time -- as long as they do not eat the first marshmallow. This tests a person's ability to delay gratification. Studies have shown that children who resist the temptation tend to have better outcomes in life, from higher SAT scores to better health.

Children who viewed the Cookie Monster clip were able to wait more than four minutes longer during the Marshmallow Test than those who did not watch the clip.

Linebarger provided video of one child who actually began singing Cookie Monster's song while waiting. (The treats are under the tray, which he positioned to cover them.)

After this initial test, children in the Cookie Monster group were sent home with a DVD of more clips showing the furry blue monster controlling his urges.

After three weeks of watching these clips, children displayed stronger action inhibition skills. Namely, when asked to whisper the names of familiar television characters, these children were less likely to shout. These skills are "linked to resisting temptations, finishing challenging and time-consuming tasks, following rules, and interacting appropriately in social situations," the study said.

In addition to temptation control, Cookie Monster led children to stronger working memory skills. They were better able to focus on the requirements of certain tasks -- such as not eating a marshmallow to get more marshmallows.

Despite these positive results, Cookie Monster alone can't make your child perfect. The children who watched Cookie Monster were less likely to slow down before making a decision. They initially acted more impulsively, like Cookie Monster does, without considering alternate actions. While Cookie isn't the best instructor in thinking things through, other "Sesame Street" characters do demonstrate this skill and can influence young viewers, Linebarger suggests.

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