The Marshmallow Study Revisited

For the past four decades, the “marshmallow test” has served as a classic experimental measure of children’s self-control: will a preschooler eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later?

Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer—12 versus three minutes—than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations [Video]

“Our results definitely temper the popular perception that marshmallow-like tasks are very powerful diagnostics for self-control capacity,” says Celeste Kidd, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and lead author on the study to be published online October 11 in the journal Cognition.

How the Famous Marshmallow Study Explains Environmental Conservation

In the Stanford marshmallow experiment, arguably the most famous study ever conducted on the concept of delayed gratification, children were offered a choice between receiving one small treat (like a marshmallow) immediately or receiving two treats later (like, 15 minutes later). In the years since, the ability to choose deferred rewards over smaller immediate rewards has been associated with numerous positives such as enhanced self-esteem, academic excellence, and physical fitness. 

Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson speculates that this trait may also have something to do with being better at environmental stewardship.

Johnson thinks a lot about how humans interact with ocean resources (like fish), and what drives us to exploit or conserve these resources. One question she returns to, over and over, is: How can we enable people to take a long-term view when it comes to the wealth of the oceans—"to save some for later, to use the ocean without using it up?“

The answer to that question has more to do with people and the psychology of human decision-making than it does with fish and ecology. So, while doing field work in Curacao and Bonaire for her marine biology Ph.D., Johnson ended up designing a behavioral economics study.

Read more. [Image: Ayana Johnson]

A child waiting out a delay in the presence of a single, immediately available marshmallow to earn an additional marshmallow is more likely to succeed if she thinks of the treat in a cool manner (“It looks like a cloud”) rather than a hot manner (“It looks yummy”). - Fujita et al., 2006
—  I don’t know why but I keep giggling reading my psych materials– IT LOOKS LIKE A CLOUD DO YOU LIVE IN A WORLD WITH TUBULAR CLOUDS SON? Gosh I need sleep.

The famous marshmallow study. 
The study showed a positive correlation between delay of gratification and academic success rates. Delayed gratification predicted academic success twice as much as IQ scores. 
Those participants who were most successful used diversion tactics, such as looking away, singing a song, etc… Those who were unsuccessful were those who became transfixed on what they knew would be better to defer eating. 
The study shows more than the fact that delay of gratification can indicate academic success, it shows that one can cultivate skills to avoid giving into the seemingly irresistible temptation - simply by not obsessing over it. 
Think about it.

Impulsivity as a child is linked to substance abuse

I recently saw a Youtube video about children who were asked to hold off on eating a marshmallow. If they could withstand their impulsive thinking and delay the gratification then they would receive a bigger reward. Many children could not wait and ate the marshmallow within 2 minutes. The marshmallow study is conducted in a ton of places and the study is longitudinal so they follow the children into their adult lives. The study revealed that if a child was impulsive then they were more likely than someone who is not impulsive to report drug and alcohol abuse/dependence.

Check out the video, you’ll laugh:

A Golden Goose for a marshmallow test? Read on!

Some 50 years ago, as a graduate student, Philip Peake helped conduct research into willpower through the “marshmallow test,” which asked young people to decide whether they wanted to eat one marshmallow now or wait a while and eat two?

Years later, Peake–now a professor of psychology at Smith– and the other researchers followed up with the test subjects to see how their lives were progressing. This follow-up research yielded important insights into the links between young children’s willpower and later life outcomes, and into methods for enhancing self-control.

For this research, Peake and his colleagues have now been selected to receive the first of the 2015 Golden Goose Awards. The awards honor federally funded research that may have seemed odd at first, but which has led to discoveries with rich benefits for society.