Don't Eat the Marshmallow

An experiment was conducted in the 1960s in which scientists at Stanford had tested the willpower of a group of four-year-olds The kids were brought into a room and presented with a selection of treats, including marshmallows. They were offered a deal: They could eat one marshmallow right away, or, if they waited a few minutes, they could have two marshmallows. Then the researcher left the room. Some kids gave in to temptation and ate the marshmallow as soon as the adult left. About 30 percent managed to ignore their urges, and doubled their treats when the researcher came back fifteen minutes later. Scientists, who were watching everything from behind a two-way mirror, kept careful track of which kids had enough self-control to earn the second marshmallow.

Years later, they tracked down many of the study's participants. By now, they were in high school. The researchers asked about their grades and SAT scores, ability to maintain friendships, and their capacity to "cope with important problems." They discovered that the four-year-olds who could delay gratification the longest ended up with the best grades and with SAT scores 210 points higher, on average, than everyone else. They were more popular and did fewer drugs. If you knew how to avoid the temptation of a marshmallow as a preschooler, it seemed, you also knew how to get yourself to class on time and finish your homework once you got older, as well as how to make friends and resist peer pressure.


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