New twist on marshmallow test: Kids depend on each other for self control

New twist on marshmallow test: Kids depend on each other for self control
Could you resist these Oreos? Maybe if you depended on a friend to help you delay gratification.

Enlarge / Could you resist these Oreos? Maybe if you depended on a friend to help you delay gratification. (credit: Pranee Tiangkate/iStock/Getty Images)

In the 1970s, the late psychologist Walter Mischel explored the importance of the ability to delay gratification as a child to one’s future success in life, via the famous Stanford “marshmallow experiment.” Now a team of German researchers has adapted the classic experimental setup with German and Kenyan schoolchildren and found that kids are more likely to delay gratification when they depend on each other. They described their findings in a recent paper in Psychological Science.

As we previously reported, Mischel’s landmark behavioral study involved 600 kids between the ages of four and six, all culled from Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. He would give each child a marshmallow and give them the option of eating it immediately if they chose. But if they could wait 15 minutes, they would get a second marshmallow as a reward. Then Mischel would leave the room, and a hidden video camera would tape what happened next.

Some kids just ate the marshmallow right away. Others found a handy distraction: covering their eyes, kicking the desk, or poking at the marshmallow with their fingers. Some smelled it, licked it, or took tiny nibbles around the edges. Roughly one-third of the kids held out long enough to earn a second marshmallow. Several years later, Mischel noticed a strong correlation between the success of some of those kids later in life (better grades, higher self-confidence) and their ability to delay gratification in nursery school. Mischel’s follow-up study confirmed the correlation.

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