The Marshmallow Experiment

16 Apr


In the 1960s and 70s Walter Mischel of Stanford did a set of simple but fascinating experiments with marshmallows and children 4 – 6 years old. Alone in a room each child was presented with a marshmallow and informed if they didn’t eat it while the adult was out of the room they would get another. About one third managed not to eat it. There are a number of amusing videos of these children trying not to eat the marshmallow on UTube.


When followed up 10 and more years later it turned out that the children who could delay gratification had better life outcomes measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other measures of life outcome.


Recent studies with brain imaging show that the children who cannot delay have poorer levels of frontal executive functioning when they are in the experiment. The inference is that stress, particularly poverty, has a negative effect on brain development at a very early age (4 – 6).

Food for thought.


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One Response to “The Marshmallow Experiment”

  1. David Bywater April 16, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    Or is it people with poor executive functioning cannot delay gratification?
    We live this every day.
    Good post.

    David Bywater
    Iowa City, IA
    319-337-9623, ext 1161

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