Every heard of a guy named Walter Mischel? If you are like me, you probably never heard of him. Well, he is a somewhat famous psychologist who currently works at the University of Columbia. Earlier in his career though he worked at Stanford, and this is where he first made a name for himself – at least in the world of academic psychology.
He designed a simple little test, which subsequently became know as the Marshmallow Test and it went something like this…
He recruited about (400) 4-year old kids. He placed a marshmallow on a plate right in front of them. Then he told them that he needed to go and run an errand, which would take about 15-20 minutes. He went on to tell them that if they could wait to eat the marshmallow until he got back, then they could have a second marshmallow. Altenatively, they could just eat the marshmallow right away, but there would be no second marshmallow when he got back.
A full 1/3 of the kids grabbed the marshmallow almost right away. Another 1/3 were able to wait a short time, but the marshmallow was long gone by the time Dr. Mischel returned. The final 1/3 were able to wait for him to return and received the 2nd marshmallow. This, Dr. Mischel concluded, was a group of kids that was able to delay gratification and exercise self-control.
Dr. Mischel went on to follow these 400 kids over the course of their childhood. What he found was fascinating. Those kids that were able to delay gratification seemed to have more success as measured by Dr. Mischel. They were more popular, adventurous, confident, and dependable. Those who were unable to control their impulsivity were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated, and stubborn. They had difficulty dealing with stress and shied away from challenges. More, when comparing SAT scores, the 1/3 that had embraced delayed gratification scored on average 206 points higher.
This study was summed up by Dr. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, where he concluded, “It seems that the ability to delay gratification is a master skill, a triumph of the reasoning brain over the impulsive one.” He went on to write an article about the science behind it. It turns out that there is a specific area of the brain, the prefontal cortex, that controls impulsivity. This is one of the last anatomic pathways to mature in the brain. The real question is… What can we as parents do to foster proper maturation of this area of the brain?
On Becoming Babywise… Giving your Child the Skill of Delayed Gratification?
I am not sure anyone can answer this question with any certainty. However, the authors of Babywise made an interesting observation in kids that were raised with a PDF approach. They took 25 kids that had been raised by parents who adopted a PDF approach: All 25 children waited for the second marshmallow. Is this truly the product of the PDF method or something else? It is hard to say.
For those Babywise Foes, there is another psychologist, John Gottman, who attempts to explore this idea of emotional intelligence in a more palatable book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. I can not give it my full support just yet, but it is now on my short list of books to read as it generally gets excellent reviews. Check it out for yourself or check back later for my review.
For those who already have kids, Babywise or not, it might be interesting to try a little Marshmallow Test of your own at home. I would love to hear what kind of resutls you get.