Wednesday, April 30, 2008


As I pressed out and cut cranberry scones tonight, my mind drifted to a study I remember learning about in one of my developmental psychology classes in college. Shortly after Scott and I started dating I remember telling him about it and the findings, hoping to discover whether he was a one or a two-marshmallow kid. As it turns out, Scott and I were probably both two-marshmallow kids. As I was thinking about the study tonight, I decided to look it up on the internet to see how accurately I remembered the findings of the study. In the nine years since college graduation had my memory betrayed me or were the findings of that study really as significant as I remember them?

They were that significant, and more. Here's a summary of the study from

It turns out that a scientist can see the future by watching four-year-olds interact with a marshmallow. The researcher invites the children, one by one, into a plain room and begins the gentle torment. You can have this marshmallow right now, he says. But if you wait while I run an errand, you can have two marshmallows when I get back. And then he leaves.

Some children grab for the treat the minute he's out the door. Some last a few minutes before they give in. But others are determined to wait. They cover their eyes; they put their heads down; they sing to themselves; they try to play games or even fall asleep. When the researcher returns, he gives these children their hard-earned marshmallows. And then, science waits for them to grow up.

By the time the children reach high school, something remarkable has happened. A survey of the children's parents and teachers found that those who as four-year-olds had the fortitude to hold out for the second marshmallow generally grew up to be better adjusted, more popular, adventurous, confident and dependable teenagers. The children who gave in to temptation early on were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated and stubborn. They buckled under stress and shied away from challenges. And when some of the students in the two groups took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the kids who had held out longer scored an average of 210 points higher.

Clearly, this study is significant for lots of reasons. For me, personally, it is significant because I can predict how my kids would react as four year olds in this study. Brynn is, I have no doubt in my mind, a two-marshmallow girl. Following loyally in her mom and dad's footsteps, she is focused and absolutely able to delay gratification for a later reward. She actually does it on a regular basis, especially in the car when she manages to stay completely silent in anticipation of a treat while Callie babbles on endlessly. Callie, as you might guess, is a one-marshmallow girl. Again, no doubt in my mind, Callie would eat the marshmallow before the researcher even got out the door and then ask for more marshmallows upon his return (and expect him to indulge her).

So, what does that mean for my kids? Do I think Brynn is going to be the smarter kid or Callie less successful? Absolutely not. The study might apply to somebody else's kids' futures, but of course, it doesn't apply to mine! Knowing, though, the benefits of the ability to delay gratification, Scott and I will do our best to develop that trait in Callie. She can be happy, carefree and a little flighty and still see long term, can't she? Let's hope so!

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