“You can eat this marshmallow right now, but if you wait 15 minutes, you can eat this marshmallow and go to Harvard.”
In the 70′s, researchers from Stanford conducted an experiment on children to test their ability to delay gratification. They took a child to a room devoid of distraction, placed a treat in front of them (usually a marshmallow) and told them they could eat the treat, but if they waited 15 minutes before eating it, they could have a second treat. The researcher then left the room and watched the poor kids tugging at their hair, sniffing the marshmallow, hiding it, stroking it, and often, eating it before the researcher returned. Years later, the kids who delayed eating the marshmallow, especially long enough to receive a second, performed better on standardized tests and evinced stronger competitive instincts.
It looks like executive function which governs such things as will power and self-regulation (and marshmallow eating delay) is more highly correlated with eventual academic success than is raw IQ. What waiting to eat the marshmallow tells you, essentially, is that the child has the capacity to defer pleasure gratification for long term gain–the will to finish their homework before playing video games.
So last week, as I was getting a marshmallow down for Fluffy to have as a treat, I paused. Dared I? Did I even want to know?
“Fluffy, you can have these two marshmallows. I’m going to put them right here on the bar. Buuut, it you can wait before you eat them until this clock says 6:14, I will give you two more marshmallows. Then you’ll have four! It’s up to you. I’m going to take the boys upstairs, and I’ll be back at 6:14.”
As I came down the stairs, at 6:14, I told myself not to obsess about the results and not to make a big deal of it to Fluffy no matter what. Fluffy was sitting at the bar in precisely the same attitude as I had left her.
There were no marshmallows on the bar.
Nonchalantly, I said, “Did you eat your marshmallows?”
“Nope! They’re right here!” she said proudly pulling them out of her lap one in each hand. The one in her right hand had little nibble marks on one edge.
“Great job waiting, Fluff! Here are two more marshmallows!” Hey, have six. Have the whole bag. And a pony. And a pink glittery sweatshirt that says Harvard on it. Yum, yum, yum. Mmmmmmarshmallows!