October 2, 2010

The Marshmallow Test

I recently came across the following article by Jonah Lehrer entitled "Don't!: The Secret of Self-Control" (the link takes you directly to the New Yorker's Science section where you will be able to read it in its entirety).

The article discusses the concept of delayed gratification and the mental processes that occur which will either allow someone to delay their gratification for a few minutes or impulsively react to their desires immediately.

The reason I found the article particularly interesting was because of the psychological experiment that was crafted to observe the theories.

The experiment was this: a child (roughly 4-6 years of age) was brought into a small room which had a simple table and a chair.  The child was asked to sit on the chair and then offered a marshmallow.  They were told that they were free to eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted to but, if they were able to wait a few minutes, they would be given a second marshmallow to eat. All they would need to do was simply wait to eat the treat when the researcher returned to the room and then they would be given a second marshmallow.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Apparently, waiting to eat a marshmallow (a.k.a. delaying their gratification) is equivalent to torture for most children.  Don't believe me?  Here is a video documenting the experiment. 

As it turns out, I happened to have marshmallows in the house when I read the article.  I was curious to see how Lil Sippy Cup would do with the test.  I explained the rules to him, offered him a marshmallow, and turned my back to walk away.  Before I took a step, I realized that I should probably re-iterate the rules, just to be sure that he understood them.  So I turned back around.

In the two seconds that it took me to turn around and then change my mind about walking away, Lil Sippy Cup placed the entire jumbo-sized marshmallow in his mouth and happily ate it.

Me: "Dude! Did you understand the rules?"

Lil Sippy Cup (smiling widely and nodding)

Me: "So why didn't you wait?"

Lil Sippy Cup: "Uh difnt wont toos"

Me: "Your mouth is full.  Wait until you finish eating the marshmallow to answer."

Lil Sippy Cup (swallows): "I said I didn't want to."

Me: "You didn't want two marshmallows?"

Lil Sippy Cup: "Yes I wanted two.  But I didn't want to wait.  So I put it in my face and ate it."

Me: "Fantastic."

Lil Sippy Cup: "Can we do it again?"

I am sure there is a lesson to be learned in all of this. 

But I still don't know what it is.

1 comment:

maria said...

this is great! I had forgotten about this experiment...brought back a lot of memories from psych 101. Don't read too much into all the results, it might freak you out a bit, especially since sippy cup ate the treat right away lol