Waiting for What We Want

Great article in this week’s New Yorker about the science and psychology behind delayed gratification (something we in this country have not cherished in a generation or two).

Scientist gives a 4-yr-old kid 2 choices – eat this marshmallow right now, or wait while I run out for an errand, and when I come back, you can have 2 marshmallows. If while you’re waiting you decide you want to just eat the one, ring this bell and I’ll come back and you can eat the marshmallow.

Average waiting time was about 2.5 minutes. Something like 70% of kids can’t wait 15 minutes even though 100% of them want 2 marshmallows instead of one.

The best part: 20 years later, the kids who waited it out for the bigger reward all had higher SATs, higher salaries, more money saved, higher levels of happiness, lower levels of drug/vandalism crime etc etc etc…

Bonus: what is the trick? Not innate personality. Kids who could wait used tactics to distract themselves from the marshmallow so they wouldn’t give in. In a subsequent experiment, they taught kids these tactics (sing a song, cover their eyes, whatevs). All of the sudden, a kid who couldn’t wait one minute before could now wait 18 minutes and get his dos marshmallows…

Don’t! The secret of self-control. by Jonah Lehrer. New Yorker. May 18, 2009.

Comments are disabled for this post