Kira and the marshmallow

My son, Samuel, has 3 children. The middle child, Kira, will be 6 years old this fall. When she was 4 years old he did the famous marshmallow experiment from the 1960s with her. Here is how it goes:

Four-year-olds were put in a room with just a chair and a table. They could choose a marshmallow, a cookie or a pretzel stick. Most chose the gooey, fluffy marshmallow. Then they were told they could eat one marshmallow immediately, or, if they waited until the researcher left and returned again, they could have two gooey, fluffy marshmallows. Some popped the marshmallows in their mouths before the researcher even left the room, but some waited.

The children were tracked for years by the researchers, who found those children who wrestled with the temptation and found a way to resist that temptation grew up better adjusted, had less behavioral problems, and scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT test. The ability to delay gratification seems to be an invaluable attribute. Teaching a child to wait for a worthwhile goal is possibly as important as potty training to the success of that individual. According to Walter Mischel, the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the marshmallow experiment, “Such mundane routines of childhood–such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning–are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we are teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires” (Jonah Lehrer, “Don’t” New Yorker, May 19, 2009)

How do we resist? What kind of strategizing  works to help us delay gratification. Lorilee Craker in her book Money Secrets of the Amish (Lorilee says the Amish are masters at gratification delay.) gives us a list:

  • distraction
  • calculate the value of your frittering
  • calculate how many hours you must work for the “thing” you want and ask yourself if it is worth it
  • permit small luxuries along the way
  • have a goal

I am proud to tell you that my grand-daughter has some skills in this area. She waited till her Dad returned in order to get two marshmallows. The Bible is full of references to building firmly and securely. In order to do so, one must build with solid materials and the cost of those materials is not cheap. You don’t get them by frittering. Way to go, Kira!

God bless you, everyone,



6 comments on “Kira and the marshmallow

  1. Sounds like this is the test that confirmed the future success of the credit card business —- most pick instant gratification. I was one of those children that could NOT save my allowance, no matter how much I wanted something. I remember when I was 7 years old, I stole a box of crayons and ran out of the store. I got caught, too! Since my father had a friend who was a cop, he arranged with the store owner and this cop to give me a good talking to and a threat of being put in jail. It did the trick as far as stealing, but it did not end the desire for instant gratification. It wasn’t until later in life that I ended the debt thing and got rid of the credit cards, etc., completely. A lot of “if only’s. . . .” go with my looking back at what could have been had I not fallen into that trap early on. What a great test, and glad to hear that your granddaughter waited for the two marshmallows!!!!!

    • I would never have taken you for an instant gratification person. You are so giving. My son told me that the best part of the whole experiment for him was that when Kira got her second marshmallow she gave it to her brother. I didn’t know that. It made my heart burst with pride, as you can imagine. Thanks for sharing. What a clever way to get you to think twice about stealing, too. Communities really stuck together in the past. I think we’re really losing that. I remember a day when my sons told the storekeeper in our small village that Vera, an old neighbor, wanted them to pick up a pack of cigarettes for her. He knew she wouldn’t do that so he called us and my husband taught them to smoke. The three of them (which includes my non-smoking husband) got so sick. None of them smoke today.

      Oh, the lessons of childhood. Thanks for sharing yours,

  2. What a wonderful and tasty experiment! And Cora, your note about the credit card and their success stunned me! Instant gratification… I think that is what Satan hoped for when Jesus had just finished his period of fasting and prayer. Seeing how the marshmallow experiment worked with Adam and Eve with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, I believe he had hoped Jesus would also choose instant gratification… turn these stones into bread; jump! God’s angels will catch you; and… see all these kingdoms? I’ll give them to you now… if you just bow down and worship me! Instant gratification! Yet Jesus waited for more than just two marshmallows…and He got the whole bag!

    • Dear Susan,

      This is a wonderful look at self-gratification temptations from the Scriptures. I love it, but even more I loved that you would have roasted your two. At four you are certain you’d have gone for two? One offered to me roasted may have done me in!

      God bless you,

  3. Pingback: Cognitive Training that Outsmarts Our Desires | Dschondog's Blog

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