The Marshmallow Study Revisited

Unless toasted in a s'more, I can pretty much always resist a marshmallow. July 28, 2013.

Unless toasted in a s'more, I can pretty much always resist a marshmallow. July 28, 2013.

In an earlier post, I cited the 1972 marshmallow study, in which researchers found that children willing to wait for two marshmallows had more success in life than children who chose one marshmallow immediately.

The researchers used the findings to posit a genetic basis for self-restraint. Yet a recent revisit of the experiment determined that children given reason not to trust others often chose to get what they could right away.

The new theory for the reasons behind self-control does not alter the original research’s findings that people who exhibit greater self-restraint in childhood become more successful adults. Rather, the researchers argue that self-control stems from nature and nurture—and perhaps nurture most of all.

The news heartens me:

It indicates that a society can continually improve the way it cultivates children, helping an increasing number of people perform at their peaks through stability, promises kept, and better guidance and behavior.

Accomplishing this means a collective societal effort—not just a parental effort. Governments, educational systems, communities, and progenitors must come together to ensure children have the security needed to cultivate the ability for smarter decision making.

Doing so will benefit children, the communities in which they live, and future generations. How would our world look if a greater number of people made decisions from a place of self-control and with a wider, more rational perspective?

Tall order? Yes. Nearly impossible, I concede.

Yet I think we can make it happen—if we stay conscious of the future benefits. If we practice our own measure of self-restraint. If we keep our eyes on the end goal. I want to believe we can.

Can we?