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Mischel’s famous Marshmallow Test of children’s willpower to delay instant gratification in return for more rewards in the future (you can eat one marshmallow right now or get more later) is often cited in the usual All We Have to Do About Education articles. Toddlers who resisted the urge to eat the marshmallow the longest tend to get higher test scores later in life.

So All We Have to Do to Raise IQs is something something something marshmallows!

But, of course, the marshmallow test is actually more a clever measure of individual character, IQ, and bourgeois acculturation in a two-parent home than of factors that can be readily social engineered in schools.

Here’s a new attempt at replicating Mischel’s experiment.

Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes

Tyler W. Watts, Greg J. Duncan, Haonan Quan First Published May 25, 2018

Abstract

We replicated and extended Shoda, Mischel, and Peake’s (1990) famous marshmallow study, which showed strong bivariate correlations between a child’s ability to delay gratification just before entering school and both adolescent achievement and socioemotional behaviors. Concentrating on children whose mothers had not completed college, we found that an additional minute waited at age 4 predicted a gain of approximately one tenth of a standard deviation in achievement at age 15. But this bivariate correlation was only half the size of those reported in the original studies and was reduced by two thirds in the presence of controls for family background, early cognitive ability, and the home environment. …

Tyler W. Watts tweeted:

Very excited that our study on the Marshmallow Test is finally out @PsychScience. We attempted to replicate the original longitudinal work to see if delay of gratification in preschool predicted later life outcomes: We found that in a more diverse sample of kids, gratification delay was predictive of adolescent achievement, but this prediction was highly sensitive to controls for background characteristics. We interpret this to mean that interventions focused on gratification delay… are unlikely to have large long-term effects.

Ironically, Mischel’s original marshmallow study of Trinidadian children’s tendency to delay gratification (eating one marshmallow now) to obtain a higher reward in the future (more marshmallows later) found stereotypical black vs. Asian ethnic differences. From Wikipedia:

The experiment has its roots in an earlier one performed in Trinidad, where Mischel noticed that the different ethnic groups living on the island had contrasting stereotypes about one another, in terms of the other’s perceived recklessness, self-control, and ability to have fun.[6] This study focused on male and female children aged seven to nine (35 Black and 18 East Indian) in a rural Trinidad school. The children were required to indicate a choice between receiving a 1¢ candy immediately, or having a 10¢ candy given to them in one week’s time. Mischel reported a significant ethnic difference, with Indian children showing far more ability to delay gratification as compared to African students, as well as large age differences, and that “Comparison of the ‘high’ versus ‘low’ socioeconomic groups on the experimental choice did not yield a significant difference”.[6] Absence of the father was prevalent in the African-descent group but occurred only once in the East Indian group, and this variable showed the strongest link to delay of gratification, with children from intact families showing superior ability to delay.

In other words, Mischel’s original Marshmallow Experiment, while perhaps somewhat overstated in effect size, offered a pretty good summary of the realist world view, even though it was hard to notice that due to all the All We Have To Do hype that accumulated around it.

 
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  1. Whitney says:

    I would have been a wrench in the works because I have always thought marshmallows disgusting. Which makes me skeptical of the whole study because I’m sure I’m not the only one that thinks that.

  2. Hockamaw says:

    Something, something, credit scores are racist.

  3. El Dato says:

    OT: The Heisenbook/Faceberg principle: Trying to avoid influencing voters influences voters.

    Facebook’s democracy salvage effort tilts scale in Mississippi primary:
    Political ad rules come at a bad time for some politicians

    In an email to The Register, E. Brian Rose explained that he’s the sole challenger in the Republican Primary for US House of Representatives in Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District.

    “With just twelve days to the election, we were set to launch our final push, which consisted of hundreds of Facebook ads targeting specific demographics within the district,” Rose said. “This campaign was abruptly halted today when Facebook began denying the ads.”

    With the implementation of its revised political and issue ad policies, Facebook told Rose his campaign Page could no longer run Facebook ads until he went through the verification process.

    He did so and received a message saying that an authorization code would be sent to his campaign headquarters in 12 to 14 days.

    “This is disastrous because the election is twelve days from today,” said Rose in reference to the June 5, 2018 Republican primary in Mississippi.

    ….

    He said he received an email suggesting that he change the name on his Facebook Page to match the name on his identification documents, so Facebook’s automated verification system would detect a match. “But I still have to wait for an authorization code,” he said.

    ….

    Rose expressed frustration that Facebook had sold its advertising platform to politicians, only to change the rules of the game without adequate recourse. He said he’d tried to reach Facebook by phone, but there’s no phone support.

    There is simply not enough Comedy Gold memes for this.

  4. @Whitney

    I would have been a wrench in the works because I have always thought marshmallows disgusting.

    There’s always some kind of disturbance like the one you would have been in this set up – there’s always some kind of noise – that is necessarily so, because the eternal difference of our (dirty=human)) lifes and the pristine (angelic, pure, clean) world of the ideal (Friedrich Schiller) = the perfect scientiic experiment.

  5. J.Ross says: • Website

    OT Trying to confirm: before Tommy Robinson was unpersonned, he was not doing any primarily anti-Muslim thing, he had started an investigation into pedophilia (not just Muslim sex abuse). Blame who you want but Dunblane the state! I’m sure we’ll find out what happened in one hundred years.
    Now awaiting news that he has been murdered in prison.

  6. @Whitney

    I would think a decent experimental program would have extra psychiatrists on call for kids like you who wouldn’t take the marshmallows now or later. I’ll admit, though, that they’re much better eaten off an oak stick roasted on a camp-fire.

    Prior to the creation of Blow-Pops, being THE best candy invention EVAH, I would think the experiment could have more successfully done with the candy below, most preferred by those of us with zero gratification delay, but parents that are big shots on the school board:

    I want some Now AND Later(s)!

    • Replies: @Brutusale
  7. Chase says:
    @Whitney

    I agree. I too hate marshmallows and would have expected something more universally liked (chocolate chip cookies without nuts) to be used. Were marshmallows used specifically to create a memorable, slightly out of the ordinary name for the experiment so it would stick, or is that too conspiratorial?

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  8. @Chase

    Maybe marshmallows were what were available in the grocery store in Trinidad in 1960 when Mischel came up with the idea for his experiment?

    Generally speaking, quibbles about presumably random divergences in favorite treats among small children don’t do much to invalidate the experiment unless you can come up with a plausible theory of why differences among, say, marshmallow, cookie, and candy lovers among small children would reflect major biases relevant to the findings.

    • Replies: @TheJester
  9. TWS says:

    Fifty participants in the study? It’s the gold standard. Of nothing. Perform it with 1000 kids over a couple generations.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  10. theMann says:

    So THAT’S why Jews are so successful. They never take the marshmallow!

    • Replies: @njguy73
  11. @Whitney

    I would have been a wrench in the works because I have always thought marshmallows disgusting. Which makes me skeptical of the whole study

    Mischel thought of this and thus used different rewards – sometimes it was marshmallows, sometimes Oreos, sometimes pretzels. Not sure what they did with the type of picky brats who whined that they liked neither marshmallows nor oreos nor pretzels.

    As for teaching kids the ability to delay, maybe one could punish them by playing Queen’s “I want it all and I want it now” every time they touch the marshmallow.

  12. @TWS

    They just replicated it and got the same directional results, just with a smaller effect size.

  13. peterike says:

    Wow, you could have a lot of Current Day fun with this.

    Set up a stand in front of a racially mixed neighborhood’s McDonalds. Tell people going in that you can have a blue coupon which gets you any sandwich free right now, or five red coupons for free sandwiches but you can’t start using them until next week.

    Do that, and then tell me the racial breakdown of the results. And then show me the WaPo article that says “well of course, blacks prefer the color blue to red, which is why they all picked the blue coupon.”

    • Replies: @miamian
  14. njguy73 says:
    @theMann

    So THAT’S why Jews are so successful. They never take the marshmallow!

    No. What we Jews do is we say to another kid, “you let me have your marshmallow now, and I’ll get you five marshmallows wholesale by Friday from my brother-in-law.”

    “OK, six, but that’s as high as I’m going,”

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  15. Another true story:

    For my fifth birthday, my favorite present was a nice bag of marbles. An older kid from across the street saw my new bag of marbles and told me that if I left it leaning up against the front of my house overnight, I would have more marbles in the morning.

    Being a smart kid from a two parent home living in a high-trust society, I found it easy to delay my gratification, and instead of playing with my new marbles on my birthday, I followed the older kid’s advice and left them outside against the house that night.

    When I got up the next day, my marbles were gone.

    I learned an important lesson, but it wasn’t about delayed gratification.

    Somehow I think there are implications here involving interactions between delay time and return on investment, etc., but I’m going to save that for another time. You see, I learned at an early age to hold onto my marbles.

    • Replies: @Michelle
  16. Anon[121] • Disclaimer says:

    n=52? Nothing to see here.

  17. Thursday says:

    Personality seems more malleable than IQ, though differences between individuals are still hugely influenced by genes and there are limits. But what changes personality seems mostly to be huge social and technological changes outside of anybody’s control, not conscious attempts to shape people through education. Though I suppose if you went all Spartan on people you might be able to make some changes to their personality.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    , @Alice
  18. @Thursday

    Another aspect of Big Five personality is several of the traits aren’t obvious whether you’d like to have more or less of them as a society. In contrast, it’s pretty easy to tell that higher IQ places tend to be just generally nicer than lower IQ places.

  19. Michelle says:
    @Buzz Mohawk

    Now that, that was funny!!!

  20. Michelle says:

    My African-American co-worker had custody of her nephew for a few years until he became a danger to himself and others. Once, a social worker was sent to administer tests to the nephew, one of them being the marshmallow test. My co-worker said that her nephew, De’Vonne, ate the marshmallow right away. Whilst listening to the exchange, my co-worker knew that her nephew, would, “Outsmart” the tester. When the social worker came back in the room, De’Vonne stole her bag, snatched the bag of marshmallows out of it and ate those too. “He’s so smart”, my co-worker said.

  21. @Steve Sailer

    One personality trait that probably would make for a nicer neighbourhood is honesty/humility. Not part of the Big Five, but part of the Hexaco personality model.

    However, there probably hasn’t been any research to find out if honesty/humility varies much according to location. I’d suspect people in small cities tend to be higher in honesty/humility than big city people, but that’s only an instinctive guess.

  22. @Michelle

    That’s both funny and interesting, because it demonstrates how different people work within different boundaries and rules. That kid is smart by his people’s rules.

    He exemplifies what we are up against. Our, dare I say genetic or just at least cultural, sense of fair play is somewhat absent from those who are replacing us at home and competing with us overseas.

    We are making a fatal mistake as we assume otherwise. We are letting everybody else take all our marshmallows!

    (And for those who care, this is neither a men’s or women’s issue; it is our joint issue, obviously. It is emblematic of an “alt-right” subject that really matters for the future of our children. Sorry, but I still can’t get the smell of red herring out of my nose right now…)

    • Replies: @Pericles
  23. “We interpret this to mean that interventions focused on gratification delay… are unlikely to have large long-term effects.”
    I interpret this to mean that cargo cults are unproductive.

  24. istevefan says:
    @Whitney

    How about running this experiment with Skittles instead?

  25. Alice says:
    @Thursday

    I don’t think there’s any evidence personality is malleable.

    The big 5 or the HEXACO seem remarkably stable. There don’t appear to be lots of studies on children, mostly because people are still enamored with the belief that since they are developing, somehow their personality is “developing” too.

    But most parents will tell you that their children’s personality was fixed at birth, and therefore probably 40 weeks before that, too.

    Much like dogs. Dog temperament is breeding.

    Why we don’t seem to know, though, is what kind of temperaments would be better…or of there is a ‘better” when you’ve left for environment behind. The Hajnal line/ map of europe shows up in a whole lot of personality traits.

    • Replies: @Rosie
  26. miamian says:
    @peterike

    What if someone was really hungry at that moment?

  27. Zpaladin says:

    If Asians are so good at math AND delaying gratification, why are some notorious for gambling? The biggest casinos are in Asia and all sorts of street betting seems to be more common than in Europe and The Americas. This gambling trait doesn’t seem to be true of Asian Americans. Is it specifically Chinese or is it just that among billions of Asians even a small percentage means billions of gambling dollars? Steve, do you know if any studies involving gambling that reveal racial differences? There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for differences in lottery participation for instance. It wouldn’t be that hard to compare lottery winners and local demographics.

    • Replies: @Anon
    , @J.Ross
  28. Anon[257] • Disclaimer says:
    @Zpaladin

    San Francisco Chinese have been infamous for gambling since they arrived before the gold rush. They have always had illegal gambling casinos.

    They still have the illegal casinos which are heavily patronized instead of spending the time to go to Reno.

    Much of Chinese on Chinese crime revolves around the illegal casinos: extortion, kidnappings and home invasions because the illegal casino operators keep tens of thousands of their ill gotten gambling gains at home because they don’t pay taxes

    Same thing in every Chinese community in the world

    • Replies: @Sunbeam
  29. Rosie says:
    @Alice

    There don’t appear to be lots of studies on children, mostly because people are still enamored with the belief that since they are developing, somehow their personality is “developing” too.

    My understanding is that they’ve given up trying to cure antisocial personality disorder and now just focus on managing it, so you try to articulate how good behaviors are in their best interests rather than trying to get them to be good for goodness’ sake, because that is simply not going to happen.

  30. Sunbeam says:
    @Anon

    “San Francisco Chinese have been infamous for gambling since they arrived before the gold rush. They have always had illegal gambling casinos.”

    I’ve seen this random factoid (about Asians and gambling) a number of times in different places.

    That really doesn’t seem to go along with high IQ or the ability to delay gratification.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  31. J.Ross says: • Website
    @Zpaladin

    I think the appeal of gambling to nominally more intelligent gamblers is that it seems to have a system to it. Also, in many games there is definitely an element of delayed gratfication.

  32. Pericles says:
    @Buzz Mohawk

    That’s both funny and interesting, because it demonstrates how different people work within different boundaries and rules. That kid is smart by his people’s rules.

    His people’s rules being the barnyard rules. Not so much IQ as NQ, one might say.

  33. Anonymous[266] • Disclaimer says:
    @Sunbeam

    “San Francisco Chinese have been infamous for gambling since they arrived before the gold rush. They have always had illegal gambling casinos.”

    I’ve seen this random factoid (about Asians and gambling) a number of times in different places.

    That really doesn’t seem to go along with high IQ or the ability to delay gratification.

    There are cultural factors.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/minority-report/201407/asian-gambling-addiction

    Asian Gambling Addiction
    More than just Chance
    Posted Jul 10, 2014

    “We have this saying in Chinese: if you don’t gamble, you don’t know how lucky you are.” —Anonymous Chinese gambler

    This strong belief in luck, fate, or fortune is part of the driving force behind Asians and gambling. It’s no coincidence there is such a high proportion of Asians gambling and the deep cultural factors which not only encourage gambling but discourage seeking help when it becomes compulsive or addictive.

    Research shows Asians in the U.S. have a disproportionate number of pathological gamblers (i.e. addicted) as compared to the general American population. According to Dr. Timothy Fong, an associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  34. TheJester says:
    @Steve Sailer

    It was called the “M&M Test” when I studied ethics in graduate school in the 1960s.

    In later decades, I tried the test on our grandchildren. There were notable differences in performance based on individual personalities … their varying abilities to control impulsive behaviors as well as varying susceptibility to adult direction and supervision.

    “I think grandpa wants me to show restraint, not because I will get more M&Ms later, but because of all of the wonderful things grandpa will do for me if I don’t disappoint him …”

  35. Dr. Doom says:

    Apparently academia is ready to now go to absurd lengths to find a psychometric test that doesn’t make blacks look bad.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  36. Brutusale says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    Hard ‘n Fruity…Blow Pops…Is there something you want to tell us, Achmed?

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  37. @Steve Sailer

    In contrast, it’s pretty easy to tell that higher IQ places tend to be just generally nicer than lower IQ places.

    Try Solio, or Blatten, or Sommeri.

    https://www.myswitzerland.com/de-de/betoerendes-bergell.html

    (And please don’t tell anybody over there in Sitzerland, what I just posted here about them. Thanks).

  38. AndrewR says:
    @Whitney

    Presumably, children who dislike marshmallows are a representative sample of the population. In other words, there is probably no correlation between disliking marshmallows and any sort of cognitive or behavioral traits.

  39. AnAnon says:

    it could also be about how much the kids trust the person to deliver later gratification. but then low trust would also be correlated with lots of other negative factors.

  40. @Dr. Doom

    Mischel’s original marshmallow test in Trinidad made blacks look bad compared to South Asians, but that almost never got mentioned in the All We Have to Do articles.

  41. @Anonymous

    Professor Adshead said that the Chinese emphasized Magic and Technology, which initially gave them a big lead over the Europeans, who obsessed over Theology and Science. But in the long run, the European fields proved more valuable.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  42. @Michelle

    An anecdote rich in implications. Thanks for sharing.

  43. @Brutusale

    Haha, at the age at which I most enjoyed Blow Pops, I don’t think I’d have known the connotations.
    Did nobody get the Now & Later joke?

  44. @Steve Sailer

    That one didn’t mention superstition. You can run into some pretty smart Chinese people who still hold lots of superstitions. Anyone who is somewhat prone to gambling is gonna be much worse off believing in magic numbers. Smart, yet stupid.

    Back when things weren’t back locked-up over in China again (in the area of communications), one could get a SIM card for the pre-smart-phones on the street. If you didn’t mind lots of “4″s you could get a much better deal on one*, and you’d pay a premium for many “8″s and/or no “4″s. The number four doesn’t rhyme, but has the same tone as the word for “die”. So freakin’ what? Over here commerical airliners have row 13′s, there are gate 13′s at the airports, etc., now so we are pretty much over that silliness.

    * Of course, you might not have gotten a lotta calls, were it a business phone.

    • Replies: @Achmed E. Newman
  45. @Achmed E. Newman

    Oops, the number “4″ has the same sound as “die” EXCEPT for the tone, which still makes it a different word. I knew what I meant, but my fingers didn’t fricken say it.

  46. Anonymous[283] • Disclaimer says:

    Gambling is addictive, like a drug, even when there’s no money involved.

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