The New York Times:
Walter Mischel conducted one of the most famous experiments in 20th-century psychology. In the late 1960s, he oversaw a test at Stanford University using a group of preschoolers. These studies gave him access to children whom he subsequently tracked for decades, collecting data on each child’s education, health and other factors. Now, more than 40 years later, he’s published a book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control,” about the experiments.
In the marshmallow test, Mr. Mischel asked a preschool child to choose between receiving one small reward now (say, one marshmallow or one cookie) and waiting a short amount of time — about 10 minutes — to receive two rewards (two marshmallows or two cookies). Mr. Mischel tested each child by having him or her sit in a room free of other distractions with a single marshmallow on a table in front of them. He filmed the children as they tried every possible means to resist temptation. Videos of contemporary versions of the test show the children sitting on their hands, covering their eyes, looking away from the marshmallow, staring at it, smelling it, tasting a teeny tiny piece of it, pretending to eat it, licking it. It’s a hard exercise for a 4 or 5 year old. One redheaded girl doesn’t even try to abstain: She begins chewing the marshmallow as the instructions are still being explained to her.
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