Monday, September 12, 2011


Marshmallow Restraint: Fate

Researchers tracked down the four-year-olds who participated in the legendary "Stanford Marshmallow Delayed Gratification Experiment" of 1972 (recently recreated above) to gauge whether they're still the type to go for the single marshmallow right away, or whether they've learned to hold out for that second marshmallow. Since "marshmallows aren't as irresistible to adults," though, the participants — now in their 40s — were instead shown pictures of happy and sad faces, but how that part works is actually still a little confusing. ("[T]he researchers asked participants to react to a series of emotional pictures, primarily happy and sad faces. 'The happy face took the place of the marshmallow,' said ... [the] lead author of the study. 'The positive social cue interfered with the low delayers' ability to suppress his or her actions.'" Wait, what?)

But if the science of happy/sad faces is to be trusted, the updated experiment apparently shows that people who can't delay gratification when they're four can't do it when they're adults, either. So, give your kid a marshmallow, see what happens.

19 Comments / Post A Comment

Christina McMc

Oh man, this only serves to remind me that I've got a huge plastic container full of homemade Rocky Road ice cream at home.


I tested my neice on this - she bit off the top half and tried to stretch the remaining part to look like a whole marshmallow. Which means...future used car salesman? Politician? World ruler? I can't say how much I loved her, for her disney-princess expression of slandered innocence.


um, i'm an adult and i'd still eat a marshmallow if you gave it to me. just sayin.

Terror of the 416

We had a conversation about this very study last weekend, but I didn't realize that the videos would be absolutely hysterical to watch. Children communing with food! I love it.


Has anyone tried this experiment in a room with any non-marshmallow stimuli? Cause to me, these kids just look BORED as HELL.


I am actually quite impressed with these kids' ability to delay gratification of that marshmallow! Where's the pay off?! I want to see the moment that resistance becomes futile ...

I couldn't last that long. True facts. (and yes I know that inability to delay gratification is supposedly associated with lower intelligence :'(


@redheadedandcrazy The longer you hold out, the more marshmallows you get! My mother tested me when I was three or four (call social services?) and I held out, but only because of the prospect of MORE MARSHMALLOWS. I was an exceptionally greedy child.


@sonambula haha I'm not THAT unintelligent! I understand that the whole point is, if you can delay gratification, you get MORE gratification!

Some people (me) still struggle with it :P


I wonder how well the experiment would work with less greedy children though? I remember watching a tiny French child at the airport - her parents handed her an enormous bag of chocolate biscuits, she took two then handed it back. Which would never have happened with any kids I knew. There would have been a flurry of crumbs and then a slightly ashamed looking, chocolate covered child..

(Didn't mean to suggest you were unintelligent! Internet fail.)

Nicole Cliffe

My parents held successful Quiet Contests in the car until I was about 12. Some kids are just more pliable than others.


@Nicole Cliffe
My brother always got me with that. You dont know how disappointed I was when I found out what he was doing. As a kid allergic to sports I was so excited to find a game I could finally WIN!


Well, this ties in well/worryingly with a recent study showing that children who watched a fast-paced cartoon (they used SpongeBob) were less able to delay gratification than children who watched a slow-paced educational cartoon or no tv at all.


Weird coincidence: last week I had to write a memo about these experiments, so obviously I spent the afternoon watching these videos. For research!

I think this one is the most adorable because for some reason some of the kids are inexplicably wearing costumes: http://youtu.be/Yo4WF3cSd9Q


@jam I swear it must have been in the atmosphere; I was just telling my boss about this study last week.


But, like...what about kids who don't like marshmallows?!?


THE AGONY. add this to my list of things to try on my small sisters.


They'd have waited all day for me to go for the first marshmallow. And then had to pay me to eat the second one. Never liked sweets as a child. Now if it'd been a kosher pickle... No seriously, I remember I used to beg cheez doodles off classmates in the lunchroom, but me, see, I'd make one cheez doodle last forever. I'd nibble on it taking the teensiest bites. Really. That's how much self-control I had. And that's why I'm a gazillionaire! uh... wait...


Ha! This study was done by Walter Mischel, and I totally took a class with him at Columbia. One of the most boring lectures of my college career, but the dude is kind of a legend. And kind of an awesome curmudgeonly old dude. Who talks about this study ALL THE TIME 'cause it obviously made him famous in the psych world.

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