Marshmallows test self-control in children

I first heard of the marshmallow experiment from my vice principal back in my secondary school days in Montfort. Recently, I came upon that same experiment when I read 100 things every designer needs to know about people.

A brief summary of the experiment

The marshmallow experiment was first conducted by Prof Walter Mischel from Stanford University 1972. The experiment was devised to study whether the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants start from young. Children from age four to six were given a marshmallow at the start of the experiment. They were then promised a second one if they can resist eating the first one after 15 minutes. 1/3 of the children in the experiment were rewarded the second marshmallow while 2/3 ate the first one before they could get their second. With data generated from the experiment, Prof Walter concluded that the ability to delay gratification starts from young.

Years after the experiment, Prof Walter discovered that the 1/3 that were able to wait for the second marshmallow grew up to be more competent than the other 2/3.

Looking back at the effect this story had on me

Connecting the dots backwards, I am thankful that my vice principal reiterated this story several times during my stay at Montfort. His intention of doing so was probably to encourage us to curb our temptations so that we could avoid spending lavishly. Although technology was not as advanced as today, I remembered that there were many temptations back then. Little things like cards could entice lots of people to spend lots of money. Over time, most of these little things became historical artifacts of no value. Although I did spend impulsively at times, but if I had not heard about this story, I would probably accumulated a lot more historical artifacts.

Indeed, over the years as I learn from different sources, delay gratification is constantly inferred as being important in minimizing expenses and maximizing assets. If we can control our temptation to spend on things that don't bring good ROI too early, but instead, redirect the spending on increasing our assets, we can probably buy more of those things when our assets bring us recurring cash in the future. Of course, too much suppression may lead to depression. Hence, we should not be too stingy to ourselves too often, as saving for recurring cash can take quite a while.

The Mature Marshmallow Test

Here is another video on the marshmallow experiment, but this time, done on grown ups.


About Clivant

Clivant a.k.a Chai Heng enjoys composing software and building systems to serve people. He owns and hopes that whatever he had written and built so far had benefited people.