The marshmallow experiment was the ultimate test on delayed gratification. It was conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University.
So, what is the marshmallow test about?
A child is ask to choose whether he/she wants one small now, or two marshmallow 15 minutes later. The researchers found that children who were able to wait longer (hence delayed gratification) for a larger reward tended to have better life outcomes.
This is in great contrast with the children who go for a smaller reward now, or who fall for instant gratifications.
The life outcomes are measured by a combination of life measures, such as SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), etc.
This experiment has been repeated over 10 times, even larger than the original study, and based on more diverse sample population. Although these larger studies gave half of the credit to economic background, they still acknowledge the tremendous importance of willpower.
So I tried to outsmart those 3-year-old kids. I thought to myself, what would I have come up with if I knew what I know now at the age of 3? I’d ask the tester: “If I wait until tomorrow, do I get 5 marshmallows?”
The beauty of this story is that the concept is beyond simple, so I don’t even need to write a section such as, “What do we learn from that”? But in terms of actions, it’s not so obvious. Delayed gratification means more than having patience before indulging yourself. It is also about stopping to check your Instagram or Facebook indefinitely, and go back to the online course you started 6 months ago, because every minute of your life now ultimately determines what kind of life you’ll be living 1, 5, 30 years from now!
If you want to read more about the background and procedure of the original studies, and learn about the follow-up studies, you can read on here.