The Marshmallow Experiment

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a study of deferred gratification.  In short: children who could defer gratification (in the form of tasty snacks) at a young age had higher SAT scores later in life.

This is such an important point that it’s worth repeating details from the Wikipedia article on the subject:

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on deferred gratification… In the study, a marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so had an effect on their future success… The results provided researchers with great insight on the psychology of self control.


While a few children would eat the marshmallow immediately, of the over 600 who took part in the experiment, one third could defer gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow…

The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”.  A second follow-up study, in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores.

While this is an observational study (hence does not imply causation), it’s certainly suggestive of causation.  It’s also unfortunately not clear how much this trait can be learned.  That said, it’s still clearly worth stressing a strong sense of deferred gratification in your children, possibly setting up a few Marshmallow Experiments of your own.  In this, you could expose an impulsive child to a parent or peer who receives the payoff, until the impulsive child gets the idea.

Of course, we can’t omit a nice Marshmallow Experiment video:

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One Response to The Marshmallow Experiment

  1. Pingback: Teaching finance to your youngsters | The BabyIQ Blog

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