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(22,336 posts)
Fri Jun 1, 2018, 10:22 PM Jun 2018

Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test


The marshmallow test is one of the most famous pieces of social-science research: Put a marshmallow in front of a child, tell her that she can have a second one if she can go 15 minutes without eating the first one, and then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her payout is supposedly indicative of a willpower that will pay dividends down the line, at school and eventually at work. Passing the test is, to many, a promising signal of future success.

But a new study, published last week, has cast the whole concept into doubt. The researchers—NYU’s Tyler Watts and UC Irvine’s Greg Duncan and Hoanan Quan—restaged the classic marshmallow test, which was developed by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s. Mischel and his colleagues administered the test and then tracked how children went on to fare later in life. They described the results in a 1990 study, which suggested that delayed gratification had huge benefits, including on such measures as standardized test scores.

Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding. The original results were based on studies that included fewer than 90 children—all enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In restaging the experiment, Watts and his colleagues thus adjusted the experimental design in important ways: The researchers used a sample that was much larger—more than 900 children—and also more representative of the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and parents’ education. The researchers also, when analyzing their test’s results, controlled for certain factors—such as the income of a child’s household—that might explain children’s ability to delay gratification and their long-term success.

Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success.
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(90,411 posts)
1. "Experience tends to tell them that adults have the resources and financial stability to keep ...
Fri Jun 1, 2018, 11:09 PM
Jun 2018

... keep the pantry well stocked"


(109,058 posts)
2. And does it control for a child's lack of interest in marshmallows?
Fri Jun 1, 2018, 11:12 PM
Jun 2018

Even as a child, I would have to expend zero effort to resist the non-urge to eat a marshmallow.


(9,717 posts)
7. heh, heh, same here!
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 01:56 AM
Jun 2018

I can probably count on both hands the times I've eaten marshmallows, campfire or not. They're disgusting IMO, kind of like those Easter things, Peeps. I get the willies just thinking about it.


(14,128 posts)
4. Marshmallows are no big deal for a rich kid.
Fri Jun 1, 2018, 11:56 PM
Jun 2018

I suspect the size of the family may also be significant. When you have siblings AND are poor, you learn to grab fast.


(2,243 posts)
5. This goes directly to my first thought on the subject
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 12:38 AM
Jun 2018

It isn't about self control at all. It is about having faith that the resource will be available in the future.



(5,272 posts)
8. yep, always my first thought as well. This seems so obvious that it had to take
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 02:27 AM
Jun 2018

people from that very social pool of "exceptionalism..." to accept this tripe as wisdom, because that's what confirmation bias does for you, and because , conveniently, it also continues to justify the social order. Sometimes I'm astonished by the broad interpretations that have been passed off as scientific.


(35,515 posts)
14. While The Atlantic seemed to suggest this
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 08:57 AM
Jun 2018

was a research finding, the original study this was all based on was from the '60s. '68 I think, without rummaging. Not sure about the age of the kids involved.

It claimed "delayed self-gratification = academic achievement later in life".

It was within a year or two that a counter-claim was advanced, so by '70 or perhaps before--that rule-stability and predictability was what was at play. If you suspect that the person saying the second cookie was going to make the second cookie available, you'd wait. Cookie now vs 2 cookies in 15 minutes.

If you had been told that there are no reliable rules but things can shift under your feet at any time, then the future value of holding off on that first cookie is pretty small. The options are then one cookie now versus a very good chance of no cookies later.

I don't know of anybody that's advanced the claim that the *sole* factor is delayed self-gratification. If that's really in the article, it's either a straw man out of ignorance or to inflate the importance of the work.

Now, that there is *no* effect would be a contribution.



(3,515 posts)
6. I don't think this experiment proves much of anything.
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 12:50 AM
Jun 2018

It does take a lot of self-control to do well in school and life. I say that at 75.

If children see that their parents have a lot of self-control, don't eat or drink too much, go to work on time, etc., aren't the children more likely to copy the behavior of their parents?

And aren't parents who play by the rules, carefully because they have a lot of self-control, on the average, with exceptions, but on the average when you include enough children in the study, likely to succeed more in life and, provided they enjoy good health, be better off.


(109,058 posts)
9. I think first they should have offered a child a choice of several edibles.
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 03:29 AM
Jun 2018

Then they should have left them alone with their favorite, and promised another.

Assuming all kids would like marshmallows seems wrong to me.


(101,575 posts)
10. Do we know what else the kids were given to do in those 15 minutes?
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 04:31 AM
Jun 2018

If it's "not very much", then it could be a rational decision to think after a few minutes "I'll have the marshmallow now, because I'll get out of this room at the end and have other things to do, rather than eat 2 marshmallows".

I ask because I saw film of them setting up this experiment a few days ago, and the room the child was left in looked pretty boring. There is, after all, that experiment in which adults are able to give themselves mild electrical shocks, and many do, just to pass the time or see what's it's like.


(7,360 posts)
12. It could also be to do with subjects' trust of the experimenters.
Sat Jun 2, 2018, 06:50 AM
Jun 2018

If you're in such an artificial setting, who's to say that second marshmallow will ever be forthcoming?

If life and the people around you have been "fair" to you so far, maybe you're more likely to go along with it.

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