Friday, April 17, 2009

Marshmallow Test

This is hysterical. A marshmallow willpower test.
Back in the 1960s, a researcher learned a lot about willpower from studying hundreds of four-year-olds left alone in a room with a marshmallow or cookie...

The Columbia University studies, now known in collegiate circles as the "Marshmallow Tests," sought to find a common element among the children who could resist giving into the most primal test of willpower—a sweet treat, left on a table for them, with (supposedly) nobody watching. The tykes were told that they could have two of the marshmallows or cookies if they waited until the researcher came back in the room. Many of them, naturally, gave out within minutes, or even seconds, but some waited as long as 20 minutes until the adult returned.

I have no idea what my kids would do. Charlie has been sneaking Easter Candy since Easter Sunday. He hasn't yet figured out that the chocolate dripping down his face and his now empty Easter basket are huge clues that he has disobeyed mom's orders. I bet he would fail the test within seconds. Gianna is so obedient, I have a little more faith in her. She does have a HUGE sweet tooth, which could ultimately lead to her downfall. I'm guessing she might have the will-power if she respected the "researcher" or adult who told her to wait.

Apparently, in the study, the kids who showed will-power and resisted the tempting marshmallows used two techniques--distraction and different thinking.
Watch Mischel's video of the children in the marshmallow studies and you will see a familiar set of behaviors. There is kicking of tables, there is singing of songs, there is counting of numbers and twirling of hair and many other variations on this theme. What the children are doing, says Mischel, is distracting themselves. Distraction, says Mischel, is actually a perfectly respectable away of exerting willpower. You simply shift your attention away whenever temptation crops up.

The other technique involved re-focusing the mind on the long-term implications of the short-term indulgence. I'm not sure how they measured this, but a child who fears disappointing an authority figure would probably fall into this category.

I'm really curious as to how my children would do at this study. I'm also curious as to how B-Mama would perform. I've seen her with sweets, and it is a frightening sight!

h/t-- Mr. Red


B-Mama said...

I would definitely fail this test these days! Nursing + running = stuffing my face often and developing poor eating habits! :) As a kid, though, I would have been golden, the goodie two shoes that I was!

I'm not sure about my kids--they may listen if the researcher was scary-looking! lol.

Hope said...

I'm sure I would fail that test pretty quickly.
The video of the kids was funny to watch.

Right Said Red said...

As an update on this post, apparently the children who did not eat the marshmallows scored, on average, 150 points higher on their SAT test. The Marshmallow test is a better indicator of standardized test performance than IQ tests!