The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
What is The Marshmallow Test About?
If you’ve not heard of The Marshmallow Test before, here’s a bit of background information into the experiment.
A group of psychologists ran a study on young children involving a treat and playing, in essence, what I like to call ‘the waiting game’.
The children could choose from various types of treats, including cookies, chocolate, and of course, marshmallows – which is where this study gets its name from.
For the purpose of this post, we’re going to assume that the child chose a marshmallow.
The children were placed in a room and told that they could have one marshmallow now, or if they examiner left the room and they waited until he/she came back, they would then get two marshmallows.
At any moment throughout the experiment, they could ring a bell and instantly get the one marshmallow.
The test was designed to measure the child’s ability to delay gratification.
They then followed the children through adolescence and into adulthood tracking their progress through life. What they found was that those who managed to delay gratification for longer in The Marshmallow Test led happier and more fulfilling lives.
This book is everything to do with Walter’s research on delay gratification and The Marshmallow Test.
Addition studies in the book also include seeing if they could influence the amount of time that a child could wait.
For example, if the child had toys to play with, does this mean that they could wait for longer? Instead of a real marshmallow sat in front of them whilst they waited, what if they had a picture of a marshmallow? What if they had something to tempt them to eat the marshmallow? How would all of these scenarios affect the length of time a child was able to delay gratification?
The study then began to look at children from single-parent households, dual-parent households, the effects of nature and nurture, plus more individual indicators as they tried to work out what it was that allowed some children to delay gratification for long periods, and others to instantly ring the bell.
Parents must read this
This is a great book for parents because it gives you hints and tips on how to help your child manage their own self-control, delay gratification, manage their hot and cold impulses, and help them to improve their executive functions which underline everything.
I would also recommend that alongside this book you also read Grit by Angela Duckwork (review coming soon) because both books complement each other beautifully.
Is delaying gratification always a good thing?
Delaying gratification isn’t always the best route. There are times when we should have things instantly.
Also, we have to want whatever it is that we are delaying gratification for.
For example, some children didn’t care whether they had one marshmallow or two, so waiting, to them, was irrelevant.
This is summed up nicely in the last paragraph of the book, which says,
“I can’t end this discussion without reiterating a life lived with too much delay of gratification can be as sad as one without enough of it. The biggest challenge for all of us – not just for the child – may be to figure out when to wait for mare marshmallows and when to ring the bell and enjoy them. But unless we learn the develop the ability to wait, we don’t have that choice.”
My overall thoughts
To sum this book up, I would say that it is fascinating, yet boring.
Yes, the studies are interesting and it’s nice to see how they work in your own life, and you can use some of the hints to help manage your own self-control and delay gratification where necessary, but it is written in such a boring manner that at times, I did switch off.
The book is the theories and results, there’s no real actionable content, so although it’s a valuable read, it is boring at times and difficult to understand what to do with the information that you are presented.
Have you read The Marshmallow Test?
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This is my own personal opinion and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.