The image is iconic: A little kid sits at a table, his face contorted in concentration, staring down a marshmallow. Over the last 50 years, the “Marshmallow Test” has become synonymous with temptation, willpower, and grit. Walter Mischel’s work permeates popular culture. There are “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow!” t-shirts and Sesame Street episodes where Cookie Monster learns delayed gratification so he can join the Cookie Connoisseurs Club. Investment companies have used the Marshmallow Test to encourage retirement planning. And when I mentioned to friends that I was interviewing the Marshmallow Man about his new book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control, nobody missed the reference.
It began in the early 1960s at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School, where Mischel and his graduate students gave children the choice between one reward (like a marshmallow, pretzel, or mint) they could eat immediately, and a larger reward (two marshmallows) for which they would have to wait alone, for up to 20 minutes. Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the Bing preschoolers and found that children who had waited for the second marshmallow generally fared better in life. For example, studies showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index (BMI) 30 years after their initial Marshmallow Test. Researchers discovered that parents of “high delayers” even reported that they were more competent than “instant gratifiers”—without ever knowing whether their child had gobbled the first marshmallow.
Read the whole story: The Atlantic
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