Psychophysiological Study of Patience

Project Lead: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Doctoral Student Researchers: Ryan Thomas

What effect does patience have on recovering from frustration?

Psychological research on the virtue of patience, including its nature and effects, is limited.  However, over the past decade or so, patience has piqued the interest of positive psychologists as a character trait that may reveal interesting findings related to the psychology of optimal human functioning.  In one of the first modern empirical studies on patience, Mehrabian defined it as the “tendency to be deliberate, steadfast, restrained, and able to endure difficulties (e.g., as when working towards goals)” (Schnitker & Emmons, 2007).  He distinguished between patience and delay of gratification, impulse control, and procrastination, identifying patience as a distinct virtue.  Others have postulated that patience is merely a combination of persistence, open-mindedness, and self-regulation (Peterson and Seligman, 2004), but recent research has shown this reduction of patience to be ill-conceived.  Schnitker and Emmons (2007) found that patience showed some overlap with other character strengths (including those mentioned above), but that none of these were able to account for sufficient variance to conclude that patience is reducible.  This research was also able to identify a number of things that patience is not; specifically, patience is not just the opposite of impatience, delay of gratification, or self-regulation of emotion.

The evidence for the effects of patience, though limited, seems to reflect both positive and negative outcomes.  Schnitker and Emmons (2007) found evidence for an inverse relationship between patience and negative affect and between patience and depression, but a positive relationship between patience and self-reports of certain negative health outcomes, including headaches, acne, and ulcers.  Additional research found that self-control, a strong correlate of patience, predicted better grades, less psychopathology, higher self-esteem, and less shame in students (Tangney, Baumeister, and Boone, 2004).  However, to date, no psychophysiological study has been conducted to measure the effects of patience on individual physiology.

The proposed study aims to address this gap in the research.  Relying on a theoretical model of patience as a coping mechanism in dealing with frustration, we hope to determine whether those who are more patient reflect any psychophysiological differences when met with a frustrating situation than those who are less patient.  Our theoretical model distinguishes between three types of patience: situational patience (i.e., patience in day-to-day circumstances), interpersonal patience, and long-term patience.  We aim to focus on situational patience and interpersonal patience, comparing and contrasting the psychophysiological effects displayed in each situation.  Our hypotheses are as follows: (a) people will exhibit individual differences in the different types of patience, which can be measured through psychological assessment; (b) these measurements will correspond with individuals’ strengths in the virtue of patience, such that those with high levels of interpersonal patience will respond with more patience to interpersonal frustration, and those with high situational patience will respond with more patience to situational frustration; (c) those exhibiting higher levels of patience will exhibit less corrugator (brow) muscle tension, lower heart rate, and higher heart rate variability when met with frustration; and (d) those exhibiting higher levels of patience will recover more quickly from frustration.

Participants for this study will be recruited from undergraduates at Westmont College.  Participants will be randomly assigned to either a situational frustration condition (n = 40) or an interpersonal frustration condition (n = 40).  Upon volunteering for the study, participants will schedule an hour and a half session during which to complete the study.