The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test -

In the mid-1960s, Walter Mischel ( professor at Stanford University in California) developed a test to determine children's impulse control ability. In this process, now known as the marshmallow test, around 600 children, aged between four and six, were given the choice of either eating a marshmallow straight away or waiting 15 minutes and then getting a second one. Many years later, Mischel asked the people who had taken his test at the time about various aspects of their lives. The result: Those who could temporarily resist a marshmallow had statistically better career opportunities and more success in life.

Back again ... The choice was simple: either a marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later. Wait or access? Some children jumped up and ate the marshmallow immediately, others slid in their chairs and tried to hold back, but gave in to temptation to eat the marshmallow on average after one to one and a half minutes. However, a few of the children managed to wait all the time and not eat the marshmallow. Mischel calls these children "High Delayer" because they are able to postpone their reward wish for a long time. He describes the impatient as "low delayer". But what does the ability to postpone rewards mean for the child's later life?

The power of delayed reward

Mischel conducted follow-up studies with the trial participants over the years. The result was astonishing: ten years after the experiment, the "high delayers" had a higher ability to concentrate, better school grades, higher scores in intelligence tests, higher stress tolerance, better frustration and more confident behavior compared to the "low delays" .

Here is a variant of Phil Zimbardo's test, which also shows very nicely how a subtlety of language can lead to completely different results (from minute 3:40) ...

Twenty years later, the high delayers were more likely to graduate from college, less likely to take drugs, less likely to be overweight, and more stable relationships than the low delayer.
For more than 40 years, the researchers followed the development of the test participants in the various areas and everywhere the "high delayers" performed better than the "low delays". In other words, the ability to defer a reward is critical to success in life.

This brings us to an exciting question:

Has the future path and personality been determined at the age of four or can one develop or learn the ability to postpone rewards?

We believe that this representation is very simplified. It is evident that the child's behavior is influenced by many factors that overlay the test. So the behavior of the child is certainly influenced by his current appetite or how much he likes marshmallows.

And of course also other factors, such as trust in the caregivers. Researchers at the University of Rochester have carried out a variant of the marshmallow test. It was carried out with 28 children aged three to five years and the test subjects were divided into two groups. In this experiment, too, each child was placed alone in a room, but this time there were two rounds of experiments.
In the first round, each child from both test groups received a small pack of colored pencils with which they were allowed to paint. A supervisor suggested that he bring a larger pack of crayons if it was waiting for him. In the first group, the supervisor came back empty-handed and explained to the child that there were unfortunately no more colored pencils. The children from the second group, on the other hand, were given the larger pack of colored pencils as promised after waiting for the supervisor.

In the second round, the marshmallow test was carried out with both test groups and each child was given the choice of eating the marshmallow immediately or waiting for a second one. The children from the first group had no reason to trust the caregiver to get a second marshmallow after waiting 15 minutes and ate the first marshmallow after a short time. The children from the second group, however, learned that:
  1. Waiting for the temptation pays out
  2. They have the ability to wait
As a result, the children in the second group waited on average four times longer (a total of 12 minutes instead of 3 minutes) than the first group. The experiment shows that only a few minutes of reliable or unreliable experiences were enough to influence the children's actions in one direction or the other. While genes play a role in the ability to postpone reward and show willpower, the environment, upbringing, and experience also have a big impact

Result of Marshmallow test

The results of the two tests are not surprising for people who have dealt with NLP a lot. Of course, previous experiences and imprints can overlay the results of the tests and hopefully we are cautious with the belief in genetic determination anyway. And of course it applies that statistical correlation does not necessarily mean causality.
And yet a basic statement of the experiment is interesting: The ability to delay impulses can lead to a happier, healthier and more successful life.

Marshmallow test:
Follow-up studies of the marshmallow test: pubmed / 2658056
The Marshmallow Study Revisited:
Time Knowledge - The Interview with Walter Mischel:

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