Saturday, September 19, 2009

Deferred Gratification: The Marshmallow Test

In the 60s, psychologist Walter Mischel from Stanford University designed the Marshmallow Test: 650 4-year olds were individually given one marshmallow and were left alone in a room. The pre-schooler was told that he or she could either eat it right away BUT, if they waited 15 minutes and didn't eat the marshmallow, they'd receive a second.
This test was designed to measure willpower in delaying gratification.

It was found, based on questionnaires sent to the parents, teachers and academic advisers of the former pre-schoolers, now high schoolers, that those that were unable to delay gratification (that ate the marshmallow right away) had more behavioural problems, had trouble paying attention and maintaining friendships and had lower SAT scores.

The results are based on self-reported information therefore subject to error. However, Mischel, now at Columbia, is attempting to recruit the original subjects to get fMRIs done in an attempt to identify the brain regions responsible for self-control. Wouldn't that be amazing?

Watching the kids trying so very hard to delay gratification is hilarious! This is a re-enactment:


Jme said...

ive read about this study before and always wondered what if you dont like marshmallows? or what if you only wanted one?

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

A kid that doesn't like marshmallows and would want only one?!
This outcome wasn't explained but I'm guessing it would have been (rare!) obvious from the tape that a child had an aversion to marshmallows and, hopefully, they weren't included in the study.
An adult would have developed that self-control, so a Marshmallow test wouldn't quite work on an older study group...
In young kids, the study was also preformed using candy and an older study group, eighth graders, were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week...
ps. I figured you had read the study- it was in the May issue of the New Yorker!