Focus Friday: The Marshmallow TestPosted by Haute Mama Heidi
Oh, how we squirmed and giggled here at Haute Mama HQ when we recently stumbled across this little gem of a clip on You Tube.
It’s all about the Marshmallow test – an experiment devised by Walter Meschel in 1960 to determine a child’s impulsivity, or capacity to cope with the concept of delayed gratification.
The premise is simple, if excruciating. You give a child a single marshmallow and explain that you’re leaving the room for 20 minutes. If they haven’t eaten it by the time you come back, you’ll give them another one. Alternatively, they can eat the marshmallow straight away but if they do so, they won’t get a second one. The child who resists temptation is rewarded with the gooey goods in the form of a second marshmallow, while the child who can’t wait gets only one.
The point? Apparently the way a child responds to this test at the age of 4 years old determines how they’ll cope with bigger challenges later in life. Mischel found that 100% of the children who resisted the urge to eat the marshmallow did well at school, while 80% of those who were overcome by temptation and settled for the instant gratification of a single marshmallow had problems paying attention at school and maintaining friendships with their peers.
Cue yet more parental paranoia here at Haute Mama Towers. We are a little freaked out at the notion that our offspring might be destined to a life of haphazard impulsivity, unable to wait for ANYTHING, if they don’t pass this test. The lovely Fiona, the original Haute Mama, confessed thusly: “I kind of convinced myself that my daughter probably wouldn’t pass this test because of the pesky marshmallow. She has her father’s focus when she’s working on something (Daddy is an optical engineer – yawn) but she is completely her mother’s daughter when it comes to sweet things. I have no willpower when it comes to candy (especially those gummy snakes, mmm) and yet I’ve turned out reasonably well adjusted (?) and can wait for lots of other things, and even enjoy the anticipation that comes with waiting. So perhaps she’ll turn out fine after all. Albeit with a sweet tooth.”
What do you think? Would your child dive right in, sacrificing the loss of a second marshmallow for the joy of an instant sugar hit, no matter how short-lived? Or would your little one restrain themselves by any means necessary in order to buy a double dose of deliciousness? And does it really matter? You could argue that the child who lacks control over their impulses when it comes to sweet treats is simply a pleasure-seeker, destined not to a life of doom but to one of spontaneity and fun. We know plenty of adults who have even less control over their impulses than the kids in that video, and yet they’re often the life and soul of the party – the people everyone loves hanging out with. So maybe self-control is over-rated?
We haven’t had the heart to try this on the Haute Mama offspring yet – it seems a little cruel – and we’re not sure how we’d fare under such test conditions either. What’s that you say? How would we like a G&T with ice and a slice right this very second? Or two, if we’re prepared to sit and stare at the first one for half an hour. Now that’s what we call an agonising decision.
What would you do? And do you think the ability to delay gratification really matters?
Picture credit: D Sharon Pruitt