Marshmallows as a study of self-control

September 18, 2009 at 5:07 pm 2 comments

One of my favorite studies of self-control… As summarized by HuffPo:

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel performed a series of tests on preschoolers referred to as The Marshmallow Tests. Mischel would give a child a single marshmallow, then leave him or her alone in the room with it. Before he departed, he’d make each kid an offer: if they wanted to, they could eat it immediately — but if they waited for him to return, they’d get two marshmallows. The tests were designed to examine willpower and the mental processes behind delayed gratification.

Jonah Lehrer’s fascinating New Yorker article, “Don’t! The secret of self-control” explains that children who are able to pass the marshmallow test enjoy greater success in life. The above video is a reenactment of Mischel’s test from the 1960s.
Marshmallows were also used by researchers studying brain-machine interface technology and the cortical control of a prosthetic arm for self-feeding.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  September 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Very fascinating, especially with regard to what we define as “success” in our culture.

    Some of the things that go along with denying yourself a marshmallow for twenty minutes:
    Self-denial, to the point of death (overworking, overstress, under-nourishment, under-exercise, etc.)
    The belief in private property, which leads to aggressive anti-social tendencies, and perhaps
    The complete inability to determine where impulse arises from within oneself…

    But there are also very good things that come from learning self-control. Denying yourself delicious treats, though, might not be the best way to develop that self-control.

  • […] posted this response on the Playthink blog in response to today’s post in which the author posted the results of an old study, where children were put into a room, and […]


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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