Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Did the marshmallow test prove anything at all?
Back in the Dark Ages when I was "doing" psychology as an extra in my biology/English literature degree, tests that had used children as guinea pigs were popular. And they all seemed to be based on choices in diet. And then came the marshmallow test, with a video that was fun to watch. These kids were shut one at a time in a room with a marshmallow set temptingly before them. They were told that if they could wait 15 minutes before eating it, they were rewarded with a second marshmallow.
It was an exercise in delaying self-gratification in order to reap profit. The kids who passed the test were supposed to be brighter, get better academic scores and so forth and so on. We saw the sense in it, because students all around us were playing instead of studying, getting drunk instead of passing papers. And, as I said, the video was fun to watch.
But now, according to The Smithsonian, the experimental results depended on socioeconomic status:
If you give a kid a marshmallow, she’s going to ask for a graham cracker. And maybe some milk. Eventually, she’ll want another marshmallow. (Or so the popular children’s book goes.) But if you ask a kid to wait 15 minutes before eating that marshmallow, promising a second if she holds out, she’s going to have a hard time complying.