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Description: You know about the Marshmallow Test, don’t you? A preschool child is seated in a small room at a table on which is a plate and single marshmallow. The child is told that the adult researchers is going to leave the room for a time (usually 10 to 15 minutes) and that the child can eat the marshmallow wherever they want BUT if they wait until the researcher returns they will get a second marshmallow and thus double their reward payout for having delayed gratification. About 1/3 of preschoolers manage to hold off and await the return of the researcher and earn a second marshmallow. Even if you have not heard about this classic research situation you can probably come up with some thoughts about why things work out this way when preschoolers are left along with a marshmallow but what do you think would happen in a different situation? Specifically, what if two preschoolers are brought together and play a game to get to know one another and are then placed in separate rooms each with their own marshmallow and are told that their getting a second marshmallow is dependent on not just delaying their own gratification but also depends upon the other child that they just played a game with also delaying their gratification. What do you hypothesize will happen in THAT situation? Once you have your predictions in order red the article linked below to find out what the researchers found.

Source: ‘Marshmallow test’ redux: Children show better self-control when they depend on each other, Association for Psychological Science.

Date: January 14, 2020

Photo Credit:  Walter Mischel

Article Link:

So, two children in separate rooms are were significantly more likely to delay gratification and hold out for a two-marshmallow deal than children facing the task alone.  The researchers suggest this is due to the paired children having a sense of obligation to their partner in the other room. What do you think and what do you see as some of the implications this result might have for our developmental theories of executive function and self-regulation? Interesting possibilities!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the marshmallow test intended to demonstrate?
  2. Compared to the original marshmallow test, what does the version utilized by the researchers whose work is described in the linked article add in the way of theoretic consideration?
  3. What sorts of things might the research result discussed in the linked article suggest about our theories of the development of self-regulation, executive function and general self-management?

References (Read Further):

Koomen, R., Grueneisen, S., & Herrmann, E. (2020). Children Delay Gratification for Cooperative Ends. Psychological Science, 0956797619894205.

Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. I. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244(4907), 933-938.,Shoda,%26Rodriguez%281989%29.pdf

Mischel, W., & Ebbesen, E. B. (1970). Attention in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16(2), 329.

Carlson, S. M., Shoda, Y., Ayduk, O., Aber, L., Schaefer, C., Sethi, A., … & Mischel, W. (2018). Cohort effects in children’s delay of gratification. Developmental psychology.

Benjamin, D. J., Laibson, D., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K., Shoda, Y., Wellsjo, A. S., & Wilson, N. L. (2019). Predicting mid-life capital formation with pre-school delay of gratification and life-course measures of self-regulation. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Twito, L., Israel, S., Simonson, I., & Knafo-Noam, A. (2019). The Motivational Aspect of Children’s Delayed Gratification: Values and Decision Making in Middle Childhood. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1649.

Rybanska, V., McKay, R., Jong, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Rituals improve children’s ability to delay gratification. Child development, 89(2), 349-359.

Watts, T. W., Duncan, G. J., & Quan, H. (2018). Revisiting the marshmallow test: A conceptual replication investigating links between early delay of gratification and later outcomes. Psychological science, 29(7), 1159-1177.

Mischel, W., Ayduk, O., Berman, M. G., Casey, B. J., Gotlib, I. H., Jonides, J., … & Shoda, Y. (2010). ‘Willpower’over the life span: decomposing self-regulation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 6(2), 252-256.