The researcher who explored the lifetime benefits of delayed gratification by tempting preschoolers with marshmallows will speak at the University of Washington on Nov. 17.
Walter Mischel, now at Columbia University, devised the now-famous marshmallow experiments in the late 1960s at Stanford University. He tested the willpower of preschoolers by giving them a simple choice: Get one tasty treat immediately, or get two about 15 minutes later.
Kids were left alone in the room with a bell. Ringing the bell brought back the adult and the child got the sweet. Holding out long enough without ringing the bell, and the child got two.
Children employed clever strategies to distract themselves from looking at the marshmallow, like turning their backs on the treat.
Mischel found that kids who were able to delay gratification at age 4 had greater success decades later in school and adult life.
In a 2011 BBC podcast interview, Mischel says that when children — even those who rang the bell in a minute — are given strategies to resist temptation, they are able to hold out for the whole 15 minutes.
He also warns that failing the marshmallow test at age 4 doesn’t mean that a child is doomed to a life of impulsive behavior. Predictions in the studies were based on group data and could not foretell an individual child’s fate.
Researchers at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences recently published a study confirming the ability of 15-month0old children to resist impulses.
They wanted to find out if 15-month-old children could resist the natural urge to copy an adult playing with a toy by figuring out that doing so would make someone else mad at them. Short answer: they can.
A video re-enactment of the experiment posted on YouTube last month has tallied more than 1 million hits.
Mischel will speak about his new book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control,” from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 130 of Kane Hall at the University of Washington. The presentation is sponsored by the Evergreen School’s Speakers Series. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Registration is available online.