Psychology professor Walter Mischel’s 1960s experiment involving children, sugary sweets, and self-control has become a classic. The set-up is simple. A researcher lets a child pick a favorite food from a tray of cookies, marshmallows, candies, pretzels, and other sweets. The researcher puts that treat on the table in front of the child and makes an offer. The child can eat it now. Or the child can wait a few minutes while the researcher goes to check on something else, and get two treats when the researcher returns. If the child loses patience, she can ring a bell, the researcher will come right back, and the child can eat the treat right away. She does not get another one, of course.
How children behaved in the Mischel experiment turned out to be a good predictor of other behaviors later in life. For instance, those who couldn’t wait for the second treat had more behavioral problems in school and scored lower on standardized tests. Those who could wait scored higher, maintained friendships well, and handled stress better. The experiment has been repeated many times since. Here is a recent one with marshmallows and some kids bravely fighting temptation as best they can.
Hat tip: Johannis Jappen