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Science Idle

Joachim De Posada Talks About Delayed Gratification 105

grrlscientist writes "Here is a short talk in which Joachim de Posada shares a landmark experiment on delayed gratification — and how it can predict future success. With priceless video of kids trying their hardest not to eat their marshmallow."

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Joachim De Posada Talks About Delayed Gratification

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  • mmm... Marshmallos (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Q-Hack! ( 37846 ) * on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:51PM (#29055005)

    The question now becomes: Can you teach this concept of self discipline to kids or are they born with it? To say that the kid who eats the marshmallow won't be successful is a bit misleading. I know for a fact that I would have eaten the marshmallow at that age. However, I was a 'B' student in school, I have a good career and a loving family. I don't live pay check to pay check. I would say I have succeeded in life.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      success is very subjective. Can't really measure it and can't really perform any tests to determine it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DrLang21 ( 900992 )
        The whole conclusions seem bunk to me. One of their classic cases of a kid who couldn't wait "Craig, meanwhile, moved to Los Angeles and has spent his career doing âoeall kinds of thingsâ in the entertainment industry, mostly in production."
        I know people who would sell their own mother's soul to work in production. It sounds like in spite of the study's conclusions, he's doing just fine.
      • by Ocker3 ( 1232550 )
        he defined the conditions for 'success'. Doing well in school, good relationships with teachers, good number of friends, happy with their life.
      • Yep, and people who think they have a measure for it usually have an agenda, and define success according to their agenda. If they want more people like X in the world then being like X ends up being their working definition of success.
        • Clearly, "success" consists of getting substantial amounts of grant money in order to design and perform experiments on children.

          By the by, I wonder why an economist hasn't chimed in with an argument about the declining marginal utility of marshmallows...

    • by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:08PM (#29055225)

      To say that the kid who eats the marshmallow won't be successful is a bit misleading.

      It's also a mischaracterization of what's said in the video.

      If you watch the video, he says that 100% of the children who didn't succumb were successful students, but that 80% of the ones who did were having school problems.

      So nobody is saying that if you ate it you won't be successful (just that you're less likely to be), and nobody is saying that you wouldn't be successful in life, but in school.

      So your post really has nothing whatsoever to do with the article, or any of the statements or claims within.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Maybe you should read the New Yorker article linked many times below. They are precisely saying the kids who ate the marshmallow were less successful in life, not only in school. The original researcher followed the subjects for decades, and the ones who gave in had drug problems, were fatter, had worse SAT scores, fewer friendships, and behavioral problems as kids. All this in addition to doing worse in school.

      • Success in school is highly correlated with success in many other areas using a host of different measures. Health, longevity, average income, you name it. Pretty much all of the success indicators are correlated to each other in some fashion. So even if they hadn't measured other forms of success, the current state of biography research would predict it to be there. But they did measure, and it was there.
      • So your post really has nothing whatsoever to do with the article, or any of the statements or claims within.

        Sure, he could taken the time to think about it carefully but getting that post out there in public is soooooo gratifying.

    • It would seem to me that "delayed gratification" would be en evolutionary tool that ensures people (or other animals) have thought out the situation appropriately and have truly made the best decision. If this is true, then people would be born with the tendency to prefer the satisfaction of knowing that eating marshmallow not only tastes good, but that it was the best decision for that scenario, as opposed to the kid who eats it and then wonders later "should I have just done that?"; the hasty kid still re

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ktappe ( 747125 )

      The question now becomes: Can you teach this concept of self discipline to kids or are they born with it?

      Whether or not you can teach it, it's definitely possible to be born with it. I recall in 7th or 8th grade I took my Halloween candy plunderings and divvied them up among a dozen lunchbags, each labeled with week's date from then until Christmas. I delayed/stretched the sugar gratification from that one holiday through Thanksgiving until Christmas. My parents were flabbergasted, as they'd certainly never even considered such a thing, let alone taught it. To this day, I'm a hoarder of money and other assets.

      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        The biggest sugar gratification festival in Britain is Easter -- supermarkets tend to fill half an aisle or more with packaged chocolate eggs. I'd typically get about 4 eggs, so about 1kg of chocolate in total.

        My sister would have eaten all hers by the end of the week. I'd eat one piece each day, and make it last for months :-).

        I'm a bit of a hoarder, but typically only until a special occasion comes up, when I use everything I've hoarded (hint: get me drunk on my birthday, or the last day of a music festiv

        • This is exactly like my sister and me. My mom always tells the story of us going to the mall w/ 50$ each. Mom to Me: "what did you buy, how much did you spent?"
          "Nothing, I think I am going to save it"
          Mom to My sister: "And how about you?"
          "I owe him 10 bucks"

          I grew up saving quite a bit, and I'd always spend it all at once be it a TV in my bedroom when I was young, or $400 graphics cards in HS.
          I am still good at saving, and still pick my toys, well.... but alas, going out to eat is now my weak
          • by xaxa ( 988988 )

            That reminds me of when I was a teenager, which probably explains more about my spending habits than the easter eggs...

            Me, to my mum: "why don't you ever give me any money? Everyone else's parents give them money."
            Mum: "because you never spend it."

            Instead I was meant to ask for stuff. But then, the stuff I wanted she wasn't willing to buy (Warhammer, Magic: the Gathering cards, computer stuff) or else I wasn't willing to ask for (stuff for gf/bf, alcohol, nightclub cover charge) or wouldn't accept (asking f

      • Maybe you're "gratified" by counting your money and assets. If hoarding wasn't enjoyable there wouldn't be any collectors.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by psnyder ( 1326089 )
        I appreciate your stance, and it may be correct. But there is also the possibility that the behaviour was ingrained when you were very small and your brain was still in development.

        For example:
        • When a baby is less than a year old and crawling for a ball, does the caregiver consistently get the ball for them, or is the baby allowed to make the effort to realise his own goal.
        • When a child starts walking proficiently, do the parents keep them in strollers or allow the time for the child to move place to pl
        • Exactly. It makes me wonder how formative this experiment was for the students.
        • >> If something is taken away, is it then given back after the baby has a fit? This could also ingrain the sense of, "I have to work to hold on to the things I want".

          That's a bit pop psychologish for my tastes. The studies I've heard reported about only children, for example, contradict the intuition that having the extra attention would make them more demanding of attention. It actually seems that they're less demanding of it, perhaps because they expect they'll get it eventually, whereas a child w

          • I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. But I feel like you're trying to disagree with something, so I'm confused =p

            I even agree that the last example was a bit "pop psychologish", and that we don't know exactly what kind of influence that specific example would have. But if the behavior of the adult was repeated often enough, I believe there would be some kind of influence on that child's psyche. It's also the one example I'm not in favor of, as I believe it encourages "entitlement" whereas
    • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 )

      The question now becomes: Can you teach this concept of self discipline to kids or are they born with it?

      I'd say yes, and it can be ruined as well.

      It can be trained if there's a reward at the end (e.g. higher mark, chance to enter university, etc.) For example, a student studies a difficult subject and then performs better in the course.

      It can be ruined just as easily. If one can maintain at good marks without needing to study, there's no point in doing so. Forcing those students to study an easy subject creates latent feelings of "why am I doing this?" since there's no perceived benefit.

      It can be broken en

    • As the first post, this post would have been very funny had it consisted entirely of "frist post" because I would venture to guess the people who get satisfaction out of exclaiming how they got the first post would be the same kids who eat the marshmallow within seconds...
      • by maharb ( 1534501 )

        Interesting you would think that. I almost would think it would be the other way around, although its mere speculation. Those claiming first post I would assume are driven by a sense of accomplishment for doing so. I assume it takes some extra effort to get a first post in before someone else and only those with the drive and patience would be making first posts.

        I know I like to gather and collect things (like the parent) and I would almost consider getting a first post as 'gathering' a first post. Assu

    • I am absolutely terrible at delaying gratification (ADHD side effect), but I have been very pleased to note that my 3 year-old does it routinely. When given a treat, he'll often have a nibble, and store the rest away for later. I suspect it's a fairly natural stage that kids go through, but it requires encouragement to become established for life. Similarly, kids will go through stages where they exhibit pretty negative traits, and parents should respond by discouraging those behaviors (don't hit your siste

    • Interesting you should mention that. I just read some of Walter Mischel's work available on google scholars.(Advances in experimental social psychology, Volume 7) they did an experiment where they measured the mean time children would wait based but asking them to think (or "ideate") with one of three modalities. i) Fun - that is think of something fun to do, ii) The reward - think of the thing they are going to get and iii) No particular instruction. They did this test with both the reward visible and
  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:58PM (#29055089) Journal
    There's a neat article in The New Yorker, about teaching self-control [newyorker.com] that discusses the marshmallow experiment in considerable detail. What I thought was interesting was that the original experiment was just to see how children dealt with self-control issues, but the psychologist realized, half a dozen years later, in talking to his children (who were part of the experiment) that the kids who had done well in the original experiment were doing much better in school than the kids who hadn't done well, and from that realization he managed to come up with a whole different group of observations and experiments. He ended up showing that there's evidence if you teach children how to distract themselves to increase their sense of self-control, you give them lifelong benefits in terms of decision-making, and those benefits show up in better grades, better jobs, and better health.
  • by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:03PM (#29055141)

    I had seen this previously, and always thought there was a flaw in the experiment...

    I would have done very well in this simply because as a kid, I didn't really like marshmallows. Roasted on a fire, maybe... but raw? I could let that sit for as long as they wanted.

    Fact is, the researchers didn't have a good enough budget. They got away with cheaping out on a couple bags of marshmallows instead of investing in some more sure-fire chocolate bars.

    Then again, if somebody said I can't have a marshmallow, I might want it more... :)

    • I believe they did the same experiment with various treats including marshmallows, Oreo cookies, and other things that I can't recall off the top of my head.

    • by mandolin ( 7248 )
      Well, let's pretend for a moment that the scientists didn't take that into account. If I didn't like something I might actually eat it just to get the experiment over with so I could get out of there and go play with some toys or something. I might hold out for a marshmellow, they're so-so. But if, for example, you gave me a peppermint (which I don't like) ... I would probably give it a "what is the point" look and then eat it.

      I mean, the reward for waiting actually needs to be worth something.

  • Radio Lab (Score:4, Informative)

    by Crazy Man on Fire ( 153457 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:03PM (#29055147) Homepage

    I heard a segment about this study on Radio Lab [wnyc.org] a while back. Very interesting, but the conclusions aren't quite as dramatic as the summary really makes them out to be

  • So, this is like taking time off looking at porn to read the article?

  • by hahn ( 101816 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:04PM (#29055161) Homepage
    So if you stuck the marshmallow on a square of chocolate and graham cracker and they are able to resist that, then perhaps we will have found a future POTUS?
    • Unlikely. If you believe the results of this study, you'll find someone who is probably going to be a thoughtful, forward-thinking, planning citizen. In other words, someone who would never be stupid enough to seek elected office, and if they were to do so they'd never get elected.

      Both parties would hate to have someone who thinks and plans in the Presidency. He might be smarter than them and actually get something intelligent done, and what's the profit in THAT?

    • If they just suck on the marshmallow, but don't swallow, they might be a past president!

      • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:42PM (#29056415) Journal

        If they just suck on the marshmallow, but don't swallow, they might be a past president!

        Washington won't eat the marshmallow and sneers at your plebian tastes.

        Jefferson lights the marshmallow on fire, then lights other marshmallows from it.

        Lincoln rips the marshmallow in half, then eats it, demonstrating that a marshmallow divided cannot survive.

        U.S. Grant knocks the marshmallow on the floor in a drunken stupor. It's still under one of the White House sofas.

        Teddy Roosevelt eats the marshmallow immediately, and asks you for another... while staring you down and carrying a rifle.

        Calvin Coolidge waits until you give him the second marshmallow, then eats both without comment.

        Franklin Roosevelt starts an government organization called Marshmallow Making Men, and soon has more marshmallows than he knows what to do with.

        JFK doesn't eat either marshmallow, and what he later did with them, a containert of chocolate sauce, and Marilyn Monroe is lost to history.

        Nixon has G. Gordon Liddy take your entire bag.

        Jimmy Carter says "No thanks, I prefer peanuts".

        Ronald Reagan waits, and eats both marshmallows, but only after getting Nancy's approval.

        Bush Sr. says he won't eat the marshmallow, but does.

        Bush Jr. eats the marshmallow immediately, and looks utterly and pathetically confused when he doesn't get the second one.

        Obama notes the whiteness of the marshmallow and accuses the researchers of trying to set him up.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Cor-cor ( 1330671 )

          Very nice, props to you sir. However, it seems you left out a few of my favorites.

          Andrew Jackson eats the first marshmallow and declares that if you want to keep the second from him, you can enforce it with your army.

          Rutherford Hayes eats his marshmallow just as you re-enter the room, and is awarded his prize only after you confer with your panel of co-researchers.

          Grover Cleveland eats the first marshmallow, but gets his second when he comes back two days later.

          William Howard Taft eats the marshmallow, the

        • Wow, you had me going until the racist comment in the last line. If you're going to parrot Fox News talking points, you'd better be clean yourself [theroot.com].
          • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday August 14, 2009 @12:07AM (#29061809) Journal

            I'm afraid Fox News didn't send me their list of talking points this week (I think Murdoch wants to charge for them), so I had to come up with that one all on my own. However, if you think there's any racism there, you're jumping at shado... oops, there I go again, right?

            (In case anyone ELSE needs the joke explained, it's not implying that Obama is racist; it's implying that he's might be so concerned with image that he's afraid a black politician eating a white marshmallow would be read the wrong way, and paranoid enough to think that he's being given the marshmallow specifically for that purpose. Of course, considering Fox News, were the situation to come up he might actually be right.)

        • by Alsee ( 515537 )

          How did you miss Clinton?

          When you come back after 15 minutes, Bill Clinton tells you he did not have sexual relations with that marshmallow.


  • BS. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:04PM (#29055163) Journal

    No one is accounting for the fact that the second marshmallow may not only not be forthcoming, but that the original marshmallow might be taken away at the end of the interval, or even during the interval. Then the waiters are the ones with the poor decision process.

    Why assume that the researchers are telling the truth? People who do psychological research on humans are a notoriously untrustworthy bunch.

    • Why is immediate satifaction better? Because self denial might pay off in the future, immediate gratification always pays off now. (Ok, so I've heard it said about procrastination.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        You have really no control over the "reward". Sure you can satisfy the terms of some "promise" that you are going to get that marshmallow. OTOH, the one that's right in front of you is something that can be trusted on.

        The problem of depending on someone giving you something rather than going out and getting it for yourself.

        Complaint trusting people certainly can be expected to do better in a simulated factory/army environment (school).

        • I think you'd also find it does better in the "simulated' environment of most jobs, relationships, and structured civilized society. Most people and institutions I interact with on a given day are *not* trying to cheat me, and I would do pretty poorly in those situations if I assumed that they were. Now, that assumption probably does pretty poorly in the hood or in a war zone, but that's not what I'm planning on preparing my children for foremost.

          Also, I'm pretty sure there's a high correlation between succ

    • Re:BS. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:11PM (#29056033) Journal
      It could be that that is part of the reason that the experiment is predictive.

      In non-pathological environments, fairly large amounts of trust are mostly a good thing. Both psychologically, just because trust is more comfortable than paranoia, and socially, because most social activities require a modicum of trust to work effectively(playing a game with people you trust to be good sports is much more enjoyable than trying to build a ruleset that can restrain all cheaters without devolving into hardcore lawyering just sucks), and economically, because distrust effectively imposes deadweight losses(If I distrust you, I'll either have to vet you extensively, which costs money, or be offered a better than usual deal to offset my distrust, which, just as in the more typical taxation or monopoly examples, many transactions that would be mutually beneficial do not occur). Empirically, there has been some very interesting work on the correlation between levels of trust in a society and a society's economic success.

      It wouldn't at all surprise me if, in aggregate(and under non-pathological social conditions), people who generally trust more easily mostly exhibit better outcomes in school and beyond(it would, of course, be very interesting to see if there is a class of notable outliers here, either high trust people who get shafted 24/7 or paranoid bastards who rise to the top, or both, possibly the latter feeding on the former). I'm sure self control is also a virtue in itself; but it could well be that self control plus social trust is even better.

      As an aside, this is the reason(beyond any ethical/moral ones) that permitting fraud and deceit and dismissing them with an "eh, let the buyer beware" is a bad strategy. Trust is extremely useful, distrust is costly(but necessary if highly untrustworthy individuals are a danger). If trust is an irrational position in a given society, it will become progressively less common, leading to higher costs across the board.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 )
      Yes, some have made the argument that kids of lower socioeconomic status "fail" this test because they are more "street savvy" and less trusting, i.e. conditioned through experience that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

      If this is true, it means those kids are being set up to fail in life, the exposure to shifty characters is conditioning them with behaviors that discourage long-term relationships, calculated long-term financial risks, etc.

      You have proposed and disputed the notion that thes

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I talked to a psychologist who dealt a lot with disadvantaged kids, mostly from families with a drug addicted parent. Her observation was that, for these kids, delayed gratification was illogical, because the reward in the future was highly uncertain in these kids' families. For these kids, it makes sense to eat the marshmallow, because the parents' promise that another marshmallow is coming was unreliable.

  • The book Emotional Intelligence quotes that how good a kid is at delaying gratification between 2-5 has a better chance at identifying their SAT scores etc. Nothing too new here.
  • This should go without saying, but I hope they tried to select kids with roughly the same taste for marshmallows. When I was a kid, you couldn't have paid me to eat a marshmallow. Even today, I don't particularly care for them. Except in rice krispy treats.

  • very, very interesting to watch. Thanks to the poster. I agree with a previous replier in that self-discipline isn't the *only* way to determine success, but it's a good one. And this probably is far more of a inborn thing than a learned trait.

    I can tell you now I would have eaten the marshmallow, but then again it took till my late 20s to develop any sort of self-control.

  • Idle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:06PM (#29055203) Journal

    Why is this in idle? This is actually an intelligent study worthy of reading. I would prefer the NYT article than the video, but overall this should be front page.

    Now give me that damn marshmallow.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    the ones who can take their own immediate gratification, while inducing others to delay gratification, and then use this to their long-term advantage. E.g. Wall Street

  • I like the kid that ate the middle and pretended they had not.

    I wonder if the real test is simply: How much do you like marshmallows, rather than how much self-control you have at age 4.

    • as long as self control > marshmallows, you were "successful". I think that the test was not testing the amount of self control, but whether a mechanism was in place to delay gratification until a greater goal had been met.

      I think that the average slashdotter probably would not have eaten the marshmallow if they were taking the experiment seriously. Why? Because slashdot is populated by nerds who have gone through a great deal of learning and the like. There is some instant gratification available in c
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:20PM (#29055437) Journal

    is worth over two on the table.

    Delaying gratification is a form of risk taking; you're taking the risk that by delaying gratification now, you'll get greater gratification later.

    If your experiences have led you to believe that you won't actually get the greater gratification, it's irrational for you to delay it. If the marshmallow will go stale sitting there and the second one won't actually be forthcoming, eat it now. If your savings are going to be destroyed by inflation, taxes and stock market crashes, spend the money now. If work expands to fill all available time, procrastinate now (or when you get around to it, anyway).

    • Eat your all grains now, you will have none to plant next year.

      Sometimes, instant gratification is guaranteed to be harmful or be sub optimal. Kids from experiment are great example to what it leads eventually and demonstrate that as overall strategy, it is inferior. Because most of the time, investment will pay itself.

      And its not investment strategy really. It is hunter-gatherer instinct to use resources right now because they might not be there tomorrow. Misapplied to modern world. Kids acted on instinct,

    • If work expands to fill all available time, procrastinate now (or when you get around to it, anyway).

      Just wanted to note that this is the primary lesson that primary and secondary schooling taught me, and I spent freshman year of university unlearning it. I'm still learning how to work on things immediately while maintaining a balance instead of just procrastinating.

  • As it was described there, the experiment is flawed: it doesn't necessarily test the ability to delay gratification for a larger reward.
    They need to account for the percentage of kids who would not have eaten the marshmallow even without the possibility of a second marshmallow, i.e. the kids who aren't eating it because they were effectively told not to.

    • This is a very well known study in the developmental psychology field and you can rest assured that there was a control group. If there wasn't then the results obviously couldn't be statistically significant, which is the entire point of experimental psychology fields, like developmental psychology. Precise details about the materials, methods, and descriptive and inferential statistics are provided in the original journal article. There is really no need in discussing such things when presenting to a non-
  • by Krokz ( 1568895 )
    Does a clip have to get on YouTube to get posted on /.? Its been on TEDs for months now... several speeches emphasized these theme in the past and like someone said, was widely distributed more then a decade ago in Goleman's bestseller Emotional intelligence.
  • by maillemaker ( 924053 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:11PM (#29056031)

    In other news, kids who hate marshmallows do well in life!

  • Then there was the kid who sold his marshmallow for a blow job, theï kid who used it to buy protection from a bully, the kid who didn't like marshmallows, the kid who kicked the researcher in the balls and took the marshmallow bag, the kid who didn't show up for the experiment, the psychologist's son who hated himself because he wasn't worth a marshmallow and the kid who stole a marshmallow so it would seem like he hadn't eaten his.
  • I just want to thank all of you that RTFA or WTFV and post here so I don't have to wait so long to see what this is all about.

    Thanks! :)

  • ... or I could say f*ck it and read it now.

    Everyone here obviously knows that those enlightened souls who read Slashdot during the work-day are better educated about, y'know ... "Stuff that matters".. and will as a result be more successful.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    People who are ambitious and impatient often get things done. Time has a value of it's own after all. Maybe a good businessman wouldn't eat the marshmallow but I bet most entrepreneurs would grab it up in the first few seconds. To them the time spent waiting for the second marshmallow holds more value than the marshmallow itself, it's only a constant factor of something that can be held in one's hand only providing a few seconds of gratification when consumed while time is something that cannot be grasped a

  • and thus have i demonstrated my cognitive superiority to you, mr. first post man

  • For someone like me, who hated marshmallows, the experiment would have ended up being a bit different. I would have asked myself: Can I bear to eat one marshmallow now so that I don't have to eat two later on?

  • -a little test of my own ability to delay gratification?
    I think I'd have waited forever to eat that marshmallow as a little kid- but spoiled by broadband as a grown-up, I'm annoyed that a 7-minute video is taking too long...

  • If I now realize that I'm a marshmellow eater, can I start recognizing that behavior and correct it. Thereby becoming more successful and have a happier life?

    I had one child who went into the Montessori school and one of the things that they do, is not let you go onto the next activity until you've mastered the current one. These activities are all in very incremental steps and by the time he entered kindergarden he was able to add subtract, read and write, and had a basic understanding of multiplication.

  • Wait... what? Someone on /. tagged this with Tantric sex?

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.