Scientists put four year olds in a room with a marshmallow. They told the child that if they could leave the marshmallow on the plate for fifteen minutes, they would get a second one. The scientists then left the room, and recorded the results.
Some kids just ate the marshmallow. Some kids licked the marshmallow and then put it back. Some kids struggled and succeeded, staring at the marshmallow, falling over on the table, and sighing dramatically every three minutes.
Yes, that’s as cute as it sounds, and if you’ve got five minutes, I recommend taking a break and brightening your day with this:
The purpose of the test was to see how well four year olds understood delayed gratification. That is, the opposite of our results now, satisfaction yesterday mentality. Could children as young as four rationalize and understand future gain, and put off immediate satisfaction for the greater reward? Some of them could. And for those that did, this simple test proved that they were in a better position to be successful when they grew up.
So would we have passed the marshmallow test? It’s never too late to embrace the second marshmallow. If four year olds can understand the simple concept that two is better than one, and be patient, maybe it’s time we took an example.
And while this experiment is not definitive, those kids who ate the marshmallow are not destined for failure because they were hungry one day in kindergarten. It does suggest that it’s not too early to start thinking about a child’s outlook on life, about teaching patience, and the concept of delayed gratification. And with marshmallows instead of money, sweets instead of life’s savings, what a soft landing for learning the skill.