The Marshmallow Test and the importance of Self-Control: could you resist the temptation?

The classic Marshmallow Test (conducted at Stanford University in the 1960’s) sheds some light on how the ability to delay gratification and exert self-control is linked to the cognitive skill of concentrating on the good feelings that will come from achieving a goal despite frustrations, setbacks, and obstacles. In this experiment, children ages 4-6 years-old were placed in a small room with a marshmellow or other tempting food and told that they could eat the treat now or if they could wait for 15 minutes until the researcher returned, they could have two. About 1 out of 3 children were able to withstand the sweet temptation. Follow up studies conducted on these pre-schoolers found that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction or obesity, scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT, and had better life outcomes across the board.

Another study that examined childhood self-control and it’s outcomes followed a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to age 32. Findings from the study show that levels of self-control predict physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes. Effects of self-control were also shown to be independent of the effects of intelligence, social class, and mistakes made in adolescence. In another cohort of 500 sibling pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background. The authors rightly conclude that interventions addressing self-control might reduce multiple societal costs, save taxpayers money, and promote prosperity.