Skip to main content

The so-called marshmallow test – one of the most fascinating experiments in child psychology – just got even more interesting.

In studies first conducted in the 1960s, researchers presented children with a marshmallow and told them if they could resist eating it for a few minutes they would get two marshmallows. It was discovered that self-control correlated with success later in life. But is the ability to resist temptation innate?

In a new study, researchers at the University of Rochester found that a child's environment plays just as much of a role as innate self-control.

Story continues below advertisement

"Being able to delay gratification – in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow – not only reflects a child's capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting," Celeste Kidd, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the university, and lead author of the study, said in a release.

In the study, published online in the journal Cognition, 28 children ages 3 to 5 were put in two environments, one reliable, the other unreliable. In the unreliable environment, they were given used crayons and told that if they could hold off on playing with them the researcher would come back with better art supplies. After a few minutes, the researcher returned, saying there actually aren't any other art supplies. In the reliable group, the kids were given the same supplies and promise, except the researcher kept the promise. The kids then faced the marshmallow test.

The results were striking. Kids in the unreliable environment waited a mean time of three minutes and two seconds before eating their marshmallows. The children in the reliable group resisted temptation for 12 minutes and two seconds.

With the trust issues uncovered by this new study, Kidd said there's no point in parents trying to do the marshmallow test on their kids. "Don't do the marshmallow test on your kitchen table and conclude something about your child. It especially would not work with a parent, because your child has all sorts of strong expectations about what a person who loves them very much is likely to do," she said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.