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How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

Posted October 17, 2012 12:24 PM by Chelsey H

A very famous study was done in 1972 to analyze how long a child resisted the temptation of eating a marshmallow, and whether or not doing so was correlated with a future success (getting two marshmallows).

Screen Shot: The Marshmallow Test

The study was done by Stanford University with over 600 children ages 4 to 6 years old. The children were led into a room and given a marshmallow. They were then told that they could eat the marshmallow immediately, or wait for a second marshmallow. The video results of this experiment are quite entertaining. The children had some creative ways to distract themselves in order to resist temptation. Age was a major determinant of deferred gratification. Only a minority ate the marshmallow immediately and years later a correlation was made between the results of the marshmallow test and the success of the children many years later. Later studies demonstrated that children who waited for the marshmallow were described as being significantly more competent and had higher SAT scores.

Image Credit: Screen Shot from The Marshmallow Experiment - Instant Gratification

A recent follow-up study was done by the University of Rochester and published in Cognition. This study looked at self-control of the child as well as the environmental reliability they are put in. The experiment set up two environments: one reliable and one unreliable. Each child was given a craft project to do and very limited supplies. The child was then told if they wanted to wait more art supplies could be brought to them. In the reliable environment a better set of supplies was brought for the child. While in the unreliable environment they were told better supplies couldn't be found.

When the child completed the craft they were told it was snack time and faced with the classic marshmallow experiment set up. A toddler from the unreliable environment was highly skeptical, Celeste Kidd, the doctoral student running the experiment said. "[Our researcher] did the first two experiments, saying 'Sorry, we made a mistake,' and then explained the marshmallow choice. He said, 'Are you sure you have other marshmallows? You better have other marshmallows.' It was like a verbal acknowledgement of, 'You say things that are not true.'"

The only time I can't resist a marshmallow. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Children in the stable environment waited twice as long (12 minutes) as those in the unreliable environment. The results confirmed that children make decisions based on not what is true, but what they believe is true in the world.

So the real question is, how long would you wait for a marshmallow?

Resources

Stanford marshmallow experiment

Rational Snacking

New Version of Classic Marshmallow Experiment

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#1

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 12:29 PM

I was well in my teenage years till I realized thet you can toast a marshmellow golden brown. Prior to this, I had always thought that toasted marshmellows were black.

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#2

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 1:58 PM

Fluffernutters rule!

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#3

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 2:12 PM

We had a bonfire last Saturday night. My 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son attended, each clutching their own personal bag of marshmallows. He likes the supersized version while she prefers the normalsized variety. Watching them while they waited for the fire to settle was hilarious. The fire had barely spread beyond the kindling when they both chimed "Now, daddy, now?", followed by the same question every 30 seconds or so. I'd be interested to know what it is about a marshmallow that makes them so insane.

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#4
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 2:18 PM

Egg whites and corn syrup....?

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#6
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 3:27 PM

Nope, I don't think so. The ingredients you mentioned are in a lot of foods. Maybe it's the shape or the texture or the anticipation of a warm, gooey treat. Maybe roasting anything over a fire awakens something primordial in us. Whatever it is, they're a perfect treat, except for the messiness part.

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#9
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 8:51 PM

Well I think it does have just a touch of vanilla, always a favorite....

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#5
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 2:21 PM

Those super sized version are hilarious trouble. Especially for girls with long hair.

We were on the way home around 8:00-8:30 at night, and someone spontaneously brought up the idea that we should stop at the store and pick up smore's material and we should roast marshmallows when we got home.

At the store, they saw the super marshmallow and had to try it. We only bought them once because the only way to get the marshmallow out of the girls hair that same night was to trim their hair.

Yes, hilariously trouble.

p.s.

I have no idea why there are links to the word home, its not here on my edit page.

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#7

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 3:35 PM

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

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#8
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 4:38 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULdmv-iPQvA

Marshmallows + Boyle's Law = Epic, according to today's teens. (It is pretty cool, though.)

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#10
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 9:13 PM

Well I had a bird in the hand this morning, but that was a gift from the cat and far less appealing than a marshmallow.

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#11
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/17/2012 11:22 PM

Well at least you didnt get poo in your favorite shoes!

My wifes one cat Mr. Squeek gives me kitty kisses then farts. Whats that say about me?

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#14
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/18/2012 2:32 PM

Love from both ends.

"Meeaw...What, you don't like my farts then perhaps you should change my food"

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#16
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/18/2012 6:13 PM

Well Mrs Tcmtech has the same issues with me so perhaps its not just the cats who need a change in what she feeds them.

I tell her its just my way of purring.

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#17
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/19/2012 12:39 AM

I'd hate to be in her shoes!

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#12

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/18/2012 12:36 PM

Seems the kids were pretty smart. After first being shown the adults couldn't (or could) be trusted, in the next opportunity they showed distrust (or trust). Seems like common sense and does not correlate to self control like the initial experiment did, so why did they do it?

I'm pretty sure that as a kid with nothing else to do, I would have eaten the marshmallow after just a few minutes. Today I would eat it immediately and ask if I could be excused because I have more important things to do.

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#15
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Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/18/2012 2:35 PM

I would have eaten the marshmallow after just a few minutes

I would probably end up playing with it.

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#13

Re: How Long Would You Wait For A Marshmallow?

10/18/2012 1:27 PM

Hm-m-m... mostly comments on the food. A hungry bunch, it seems.

In looking at the paper (Mischel, Walter; Ebbe B. Ebbesen, Antonette Raskoff Zeiss (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2): 204-218. doi:10.1037/h0032198. ISSN 0022-3514), the correlation between delayed gratification and success is a later postulation, as far as I can conclude, as I couldn't find the authors bringing up the idea of "success." (I only had time to skim the paper, so I might be wrong. But a search for the word "success" yielded no results.) The opening paragraph sets the primary subject:

As early as 1890, William James contended that attentional processes are at the very core of the self-control phenomena usually subsumed under the term "will" or, since James's time, under the concept "ego strength" According to James (1890) "Attention with effort is all that any case of volition implies The essential achievement of will is to attend to a difficult object . [p 549]." In contrast, psychoanalytic theories of self-control emphasize unconscious processes and motivational dynamics, as well as internalization of values and intrapsychic conflicts to explain self-control phenomena. In spite of this shift in emphasis away from attentional to psychodynamic interpretations of self-control, some strands of evidence suggest possible links between attentional processes and self-regulatory mechanisms.

The investigation and discussion concerns the mechanisms and mental processes as they relate to the ability to delay gratification. Distraction is discussed as a key to sustaining delay. The paper cites 2 previous papers by Mischel, et al: (MISCHEL, W Theory and research on the antecedents of self-imposed delay of reward In B A Maher (Ed), Progress in experimental personality research Vol 3 New York Academic Press, 1966 and MISCHEL, W, & EBBESEN, E B Attention in delay of gratification Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1970, 16, 329-337)

I took a Social Psychology class in college and found it very interesting and I looked forward to going to it. It's a formal version of "people watching." Because theories of "mind" are still far from complete, and because there is no "scientific" measure of Id, Ego and Super Ego, Psychology remains a "soft" science. These, and other terms, are just convenient ways to try to group and categorize mental processes and influences in a logical manner. Neuroscience is becoming an important tool in providing correlations between biological processes we can measure, and behavior.

How can we not be skeptical of conclusions drawn from such studies (meaning the later attempt to correlate future success to delayed gratification)? Having said that, I have previously posted a link to another study of children (not so famous) which poses the hypothesis of linking "dominant" behavior and "deception." It seems appropriate to include it in a thread specifically about studies involving children and their future status; and appropriate given the election season. (The correlation in the Keating/Heltman paper is, I think, "easier" to indulge in, since the 2 behaviors are compared concurrently, as opposed to having to wait years for a "state" termed, "success" which is without continual observation of any factors and events that might also have a bearing on the outcome.)

Our gut tells us there may be validity to these correlations, but without more specific and measurable links, the detailed observations remain just that -- observations; interesting, no doubt, but still open and subject to interpretation.

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