Oct 28, 2010

The Marshmallow Experiment

"A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush" is an idiom which means keep what you have and don't be greedy for more or it's better to have a small real advantage than the possibility of a greater one.

There is a well-known experiment which was conducted in the 1960's in which four year old children were offered a marshmallow and were told that they may eat it now.  But if they wait 15 minutes until the person returns, they can have two marshmallows.  Some ate the marshmallow right away while others waited and got two.  The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored significantly higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later.  This showed that early self-discipline boded well for the future.

You can watch a recent reenactment here:
It is very amusing!

If you were watching a child you loved being tested in this way, what would you want them to do?

Self-discipline is a vital trait indeed, but how about being content with what one has - is that not also a vital attitude in life, the source of happiness? Isn't waiting for two greedy? And maybe they don't like marshmallows enough to wait for a second one.  Though the girl who ate it and left didn't seem to even consider the matter and that did not bode well for her future.

I noticed that not a single child turned their back on the marshmallow to avoid temptation.  And they also listen and sit in the chair and don't get up!

What if they were allowed to do whatever they wanted in the room? What if there was a clock in the room and they were told she would be back when the big hand is on the 3 or if there was a timer they could watch.  She didn't tell them when she would be back!  And how informative is this test when they are told to sit inches away from it?

Comments anyone?


  1. I couldn't get the video to play, but kids who keep kosher are constantly seeing good things to eat and know that they must avoid eating it. Then they get a little older and have to wait for dairy if they have eaten meat, and wait for kiddish and no chometz on Pesach, etc.
    I would hope that the child could wait and earn a second marshmallow but I am a very indulgent grandmother.

  2. In case others have a viewing problem, just go to Google and put in the words: marshmallow temptation test
    and you'll see it.

    Someone pointed out to me that the kids are wrestling with boredom as much as, if not more so than, with temptation!

  3. I thought of that as well, re. boredom.
    I think while the test is interesting 15 minutes is too long to leave a child alone with nothing else to do. I wonder if more children would have succeeded had they been able to occupy themselves with something else. Or was boredom part of the test?