The Marshmallow Test




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In the late 1960’s, a series of tests were performed on preschoolers by psychologist Walter Mischel. In what would become known as The Marshmallow Tests, Mischel gave each child a single marshmallow, and would then leave them alone in the room with it. Before he left, he made them an offer. They could choose to eat it immediately, or if they waited, they would receive two marshmallows as a prize. If they rang a bell on the desk while he was away, he would come running back and they could eat the one marshmallow, but they would not get a second.

Years after the bell test, in 1981, Mischel sent out a questionnaire to the parents, teachers, and academic advisers of the six hundred and fifty-three children who were a part of The Marshmallow Test. He inquired about the various personality traits of the test subjects, who were now in high school. He even requested their S.A.T. scores.

The New Yorker recently caught up with Mischel and several of the children who were a part of the original 1960s test group. According to the article, the results Mischel received from the parents and teachers were very revealing, to say the least. He began comparing how children who “rang the bell quickly” (IE: Ate the marshmallow as fast as they could) performed later in life. Same with the “delayers” (IE: Waited until Mischel came back so they could receive a second marshmallow.) According to the article:

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

Carolyn Weisz and her brother Craig, who was one year older, were part of the original experiment (not the recent video one, below). Carolyn was part of the 30% of the children who were able to hold off on eating the marshmallow. Craig was among the larger majority that scarffed the marshmallow down. According to the article, this is what they are doing now:

 

Carolyn Weisz is a textbook example of a high delayer. She attended Stanford as an undergraduate, and got her Ph.D. in social psychology at Princeton. She’s now an associate psychology professor at the University of Puget Sound. Craig, meanwhile, moved to Los Angeles and has spent his career doing “all kinds of things” in the entertainment industry, mostly in production. He’s currently helping to write and produce a film. “Sure, I wish I had been a more patient person,” Craig says. “Looking back, there are definitely moments when it would have helped me make better career choices and stuff.”

Watch the video of the new marshmallow test below. How do you think your children would do?! And do you think tests like this can really determine a child’s outcome in life?