Saturday, June 2, 2012

#153 / The Marshmallow Effect*

In the 1960's and 1970's, a famous “marshmallow experiment” was carried out by researchers at Stanford University. 651 preschool-aged children were studied, with researchers examining the mental mechanisms that affect cognitive and emotional self-regulation.

The children were given a marshmallow and advised that if they waited to eat the marshmallow until the experimenter returned from an errand that would take about 15-20 minutes, the experimenter would give the child two marshmallows to eat.

One-third of the children ate the marshmallow almost immediately. One-third of the children waited some period of time, but ate the marshmallow before the experimenter returned. One-third of the children waited long enough to earn the second marshmallow.

In a longitudinal follow-up study, the same children were tested at 18 years of age. The children who ate the marshmallow immediately, labeled the low delayers, were compared to the children who waited to receive the enhanced reward, labeled the high delayers. Across a range of measured variables—including behavioral measures, cognitive measures, attention measures, social and relationship measures, physical health measures, stress measures, school attendance, school completion, early pregnancy, truancy, drug use, and criminal activity—low delayers performed less successfully.

Significantly, the high delayers scored, on average, 210 points higher on the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) in mathematics than the low delayers. The predictive variable was deemed the “strategic allocation of attention,” or the ability to self-distract. The findings are stable across cultures. Based on this research, ability to self-regulate is a better predictor of SAT score than Intelligence Quotient (IQ) or parent education or even economic status.

To cut to the chase: delayed gratification works, if you want a high SAT score in math!

Probably works in other areas, too!!

*The information in this post comes from the Tomorrow's Professor Blog.

1 comment:

  1. How many didn't eat the marshmallows at all?

    I never liked marshmallows.


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