This very amusing video was sent to me by a friend and colleague. It seems to be making the rounds lately.
It shows some preschoolers placed in a room seated in front of a very tantalizing marshmallow. Each is promised that if he or she will wait until the adult returns, the child can have two marshmallows instead of just one, but that if the child eats the one marshmallow before the adult returns, that will be it, just one marshmallow. A lot of the fun is seeing the strategies these kids devise to keep themselves from focusing on HOW MUCH they want to EAT THE MARSHMALLOW. As greedy for treats as adults and young adults can be, it can be hard to remember the days when that is the ONLY THING ON YOUR MIND.
The video is directly inspired by what is informally referred to as "The Marshmallow Study" conducted by Dr. Walter Mischel at who first conducted a formal double blind experiment along these lines at Stanford University in the 1960s. What makes Mischel's work interesting is his inspiration to extend the study longitudinally, revisiting these same children over the course of their lives. As one would expect, the children who could delay gratification at age 4 had better school careers. On average, they scored 210 points higher on the SAT tests--11 or 12 years later! Naturally, they tended to enroll in post-secondary schools with higher academic standards.
But even more remarkably, they were happy, healthier, more satisfied, more spiritually and materially successful than their more impatient classmates. The ones who couldn't wait had shorter marriages on average, lower job satisfaction, poorer health and greater frustration in life.
You can hear excellent 15-minute radio report on this work, including an interview with Mischel at Radiolab from WNYC, New York public radio.
So perhaps the most important word you can ever say to a child is...Wait...
"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin