If you give a kid a marshmallow, she’s going to ask for a graham cracker. And maybe some milk. Eventually, she’ll want another marshmallow. (Or so the popular children’s book goes.) But if you ask a kid to wait 15 minutes before eating that marshmallow, promising a second if she holds out, she’s going to have a hard time complying.
This dilemma, commonly known as the marshmallow test, has dominated research on children’s willpower since 1990, when Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues published their groundbreaking study on the topic. Overall, they found that those who stop themselves from eating the first marshmallow in order to obtain the second ostensibly exhibit better self-control, a characteristic they linked with later academic and career success.
But according to a new study published in Psychological Science, the marshmallow test is not as decisive as previous research suggests. Instead, results vary based on background factors including socioeconomic status, home environment, and early cognitive ability.
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