Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Marshmallow Test

In the late 1960's, Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted experiments to study the mental processes of delayed gratification in children. These same experiments were later used to see if there was any connection to impulse control in children and success later in life. The experiments were simple. A number of 4 year olds were placed in a room, one at a time and given a treat such as a marshmallow. They were told that they could eat it now or if they could wait 15 minutes they would be given a second marshmallow. The results were that about a third of the children ate the treat immediately, a third waited the whole time and gained a second marshmallow and the rest tried to wait but gave up at some point before the 15 minutes were up. What Mischel later found is fascinating. Those children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow turned out to be significantly less likely to have behavioral problems, were more socially competent and academically successful. The children who immediately ate the marshmallow were more likely to experience behavior problems, self-esteem issues and struggled academically. The study has been replicated in various forms with similar results.


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