Can you say no to something today to get what you want tomorrow?

Girl with a marshmallow

Take a look at this video showing these kids working really hard to resist eating a marshmallow.

[vimeo 5239013]

What would you do?  Would you be more like the little boy who sniffs and takes bits out of the mashmallow and turns it upside down or the little the little girl who eats it before the researcher has left the room?

I was sent this by Mark Kemp at the Gallery Partnership from Dr Deb’s website. This marshmallow test is based on Dr Walter Mischel’s research on self control back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The design of the experiment involved leaving a series of 4 year olds (all lovers of marshmallows) in a room with a bell and a marshmallow.  Each child was given a set of simple instructions.   If they rang the bell, then Michel would come back and they could immediately eat the marshmallow.  However, if they were able to wait for him to come back on his own then the they would not only get to eat the original marshmallow they would be given another one as a reward.

Mischel found that over the years of following the test subjects was that children who rang the bell early to gain immediate gratification had more behavioural and academic problems growing up, got lower SAT scores and struggled in stressful situations and had limited friendships as adults.

Other Psychologists such as Heckel et al (1981) have found that lack of self control, in the form of impulsiveness, is likely to result in poorer success in problem solving and also lower levels of job satisfaction (Gellatly et al 1991).

Here are some of the background papers on the subject that you might find interesting:

  • Patterson, C., & Mischel, W. (1976). Effects of temptation-inhibiting and task-facilitating plans on self-control.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (2), 209-217
  • Heckel, R.,V., Allen, S.,S.,  &  Stone, P.,A. ( 1981) A Comparison of Self Rated High and Low Success Problem Solvers. The Journal of Psychology. 107, 173-176
  • Gellatly, I.,R., Paunonen, S., V., Meyer, J.,P., Jackson, D., N., & Goffin, R., D. (1991) Personality, vocational interest and cognitive predictors of managerial job performance and satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 12 (3), 221-231