That one thing

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2012 11:40 pm
MORE ABOUT: Human Nature
  • nextgenseek

    I have not heard this experiment before. It was fun watching this and many more suggested by YouTube later :). At what age kids get over their urge to have instant gratification? Any work on that?

  • RedZenGenoist

    Table of future time orientation by nation:

    I wish that the Marshmallow Tests would be performed in some East Asian countries, so that we could obtain clarity as to whether this pattern persists into childhood. I can’t get away from the feeling that there must be some kind of methodology error, though I guess I can’t find it in GLOBE or Wang et al.

    In other shocking news, Singapore is f-ing awesome.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I hate to say it, but I don’t think I would have passed the marshmallow test as a child.

    I might be of above-average intelligence, but I also have fairly bad ADD. Thankfully, I’m smart enough to be efficient when I don’t procrastinate. I always joke to my wife, when she asks me why I put off household chores “Why do less work now, when you can do more work tomorrow?”

  • simplicio

    I’m not sure I’d pass the Marshmallow test [i]now[/i]

  • dave chamberlin

    Every overwieght person is flunking the marshmellow test, myself included.

  • AG

    Similar test can be designed for all biological desires including sexual impulse. It is very likely that the results would correlate.

  • Chris_T_T

    Marshmallow? Easy. Snickers Bar? 10 seconds, maybe.

  • Jason Malloy

    I wonder how many children eat the marshmallow because they fail to understand the instructions or the nature of the offer? Not just because of lower intelligence, but also disinterest. When the adult was talking here even I had to fight off hearing those Charlie Brown noises.

    Another thing that lowered my faith in this measure (though it might just be this video) is the way the test was framed as a test of obedience (I’m leaving the room… don’t eat the marshmallow!), instead of a test of pure preference. It needs to be more clear that it is not bad to eat the marshmallow.

  • Isabel

    Jason, I also found it annoying that the tester seemed so insensitive to the child’s lack of understanding of the phrase “a second one” after she had instructed “you can eat it but you won’t get a second one” – and then she didn’t repeat the instructions after explaining the term. Instead she just simplified it into an obedience issue. Which is when I realized this was just a parent and child (probably) trying out the test. Supposedly it is predictive of future success. But you’re right, the little girl may have “passed the test” partly because of desire to please the adult rather than delayed gratification alone. Fun watching how she distracted herself.

  • ryan

    nextgenseek – here’s a graph that based on my personal experience of life and how we live it may answer your question of when people get over the desire for instant gratification:

    redzengenoist – One of my own tests of intelligence and executive function is whether someone can read or watch Hamlet, about a young man who is trying to figure out whether his stepfather killed his father, and avoid the conclusion that Hamlet is “vacillating”. I’d guess those who can defer the joy of killing the murderer of their father until they’re certain who did it score rather better on the Marshmallow test than those who think it’s best to just off some old dude they dislike and ask questions later. Just sayin’.

    Jason, I agree with your critique of this particular iteration of the test, but I don’t think it’s meant to be a test of pure preference. I might well have ‘failed’ because I’m not a big enough fan of marshmallows to want two; or passed because one isn’t a big temptation to me. But the point is not choice. You’re not trying to measure whether a kid prefers one marshmallow now. The experiment is designed so you’re offering something you’re absolutely sure the kid wants two of, to see whether they can defer the pleasure of one in order to get what even they believe they want. The assumption is that regardless of whether the parent thinks it’s ‘bad’ to eat only one, that the kid has an internal assessment that she would prefer to defer and get two. But can she?

    Razib, this test comes up in a lot of contexts. One is the This American Life story I had linked to when I rudely ignored the open thread a few days ago (because I couldn’t make myself wait …). Just curious if it was listening to some of that piece that prompted you to post, or something else?

  • RedZenGenoist

    #10 Your point is peculiar, but I think you’re on hitting on something clever.

  • Grey

    “That one thing”


  • April Brown

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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