The Marshmallow Experiment

marshmallows

Want one? If you wait, you can have two.

I recently tweeted about the Marshmallow Experiment after reading about it in the Toronto Star. Yesterday, I listened to the Radio Lab podcast that discusses the same experiment.

The gist of it is that children are given the choice of taking one marshmallow or waiting a few minutes and taking two.  At around 4 years of age, many people develop the ability to delay their gratification.  Not all, but many.

More interestingly, when researchers followed up with the children who had been tested years later, those that were able to delay their gratification were more successful on a number of measures ranging from SAT scores and GPAs to whether they were overweight.  Fortunately, these skills can be developed, so even if a four-year-old swipes the marshmallow at the first opportunity, she is not predetermined to be an obese dropout.

As a teacher, I’m thinking about how this skill translates to my classes.  I suspect that I can identify a few students in my class who are instant-swipers and some who are probably still waiting to take the second marshmallow in case they will be rewarded with a third marshmallow.  Some students cram for tests, while others forgo fun in favor of studying and reviewing.

I find it encouraging to learn that these skills can be honed, but I wonder if this is true for the adult students that I work with.  How can we help this message reach them?  How can we help them to apply this information to their academic and, eventually, professional careers?

Maybe I need to bring a bag of marshmallows to class.

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