Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Journal 7-Delayed Gratification

Journal 7-Delayed Gratification

Abumrad, Jad & Krulwich, Robert (2009, March 9). [Podcast] Mischel’s Marshmallows. RadioLab. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/2009/03/09/mischel%E2%80%99s-marshmallows/

Click here for the original podcast. You should listen to it because it is fascinating and very well done

I first learned about the famous marshmallow test this past week while I was in my car listening to a radio show/podcast that I love. It is called RadioLab. Dr. Walter Mischel (said like the President's wife) was the man who conducted the marshmallow test. He is currently employed at Columbia University in New York City. What Dr. Mischel did is he took 4 year olds and had them come to a room that was rather plain. In the room on a plate was a marshmallow. Each 4 year old entered the room and was told they could eat the marshmallow now if they chose to or they could wait until Dr. Mischel returned and they would get two marshmallows. Mischel tested 500 children and there was a huge range. Many children made it and were able to earn a second marshmallow, but many children could not wait. Some children ate their marshmallow right away but the average time a child delayed gratification was 7 to 8 minutes.

asked his girls how specific children, who he dealt with exclusively on this study, were doing. Some children were doing well and others were not doing so well. Then Dr. Dr. Mischel had two daughters going to the school where he tested these 500 children. About 5 years after the study, over pancakes in the morning, Dr. Mischel made some kind of inference that seems to be true. This is the amazing thing. There seems to be a direct correlation between the children who were able to delay gratification and their success in school. And the children who ate the marshmallow without waiting were, well, not doing as well.

You would never think this would happen but it has. Ten years or so later, Dr. Mischel looked at the children's SAT scores and there is distinct connection between the students who were able to delay gratification and higher scores on the SAT. Dr. Mischel calls the connection a "remarkable correlations between the actual SAT score and the delayed gratification time." Well, how much better did students do? How much better did the children who delayed gratification do than children the children that did not delay gratification? The SAT scores for both groups are startling? For one student, on average, the difference in SAT scores between a child who waited 1 minute to eat the marshmallow and the student who waited 20 minutes was a difference of about 210 points. And what happened to the kids that were not able to delay gratification? Dr. Mischel says that these kids are "most likely to become a bully."

40 years later Dr. Mischel is still in touch with these children from the marshmallow study. Dr. Mischel's and his group expanded the data that is being collected. They keep in touch with about 250 of these now adults. The kids who were able to delay gratification now have better jobs, have gone further in school and are even healthier. Does this mean I can try this test on my 4 year old and find out if he or she is going to be a good student and be successful? Well, the answer to that is, statistically, yes. So, am I to believe that at 4 years old, when the concept of will power is forming, that a child either has it or they don't? And if my child does not have will power are they doomed? Could schools use this marshmallow test as a screening tool for kindergarten and future schooling? Could a pediatricians use this test to judge whether the child who grows up and has a family history of diabetes will be more likely to get this disease. Do we even need to have a child's genetic code? Can we come up with a mathematical equation that predicts how successful a child is going to be at the age of 4 much like how a pediatrician comes up with a child's height and weight percentile? I keep coming back to the thought of, "is there any hope?"

All is not lost. What Mischel found out is that children who delayed gratification used little tricks to distract themselves or pretend that the marshmallow was some how not as desirable. And if that is the case, tricks can be taught and learned. So, Mischel took this one step further. He said to the child, who was unable to delay gratification previously, and was face to face with the marshmallow again, to pretend that there was a picture frame around the marshmallow and that it was a picture and not an actual tasty marshmallow. Guess what? Children, once they were taught this trick, were able to delay gratification.

This study has some interesting implications for education, early child development and quite possibly the future of our nation. If we can control obesity by teaching 4 year olds tricks to delay gratification we may have really got something. If we can control obesity, which is associated with various diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and osteoporosis, we can help people live heather and happier lives. We will also save our nation a great deal of medical and health care expenses that seem to have major implications for our economy. These connections to delaying gratification go far beyond just obesity and a person's health.

1 comment:

Scott Shelhart said...

Very interesting study. I will download the podcast and listen to it tomorrow.

Nicely written.