Let Them Eat Marshmallows!

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

The folks who brought us NurtureShock have news that will warm the hearts of 4-year-olds everywhere: the marshmallow test is a lot of fluff.

The test involves sitting a 4-year-old down in a room with a marshmallow and a simple set of instructions: if you can wait to eat the marshmallow until the researcher returns, you will be given a second marshmallow.

Most kids, it turns out, will wait awhile and then eat the marshmallow. About a third will wait the full 15 minutes for the researcher to return and then eat two marshmallows. A handful will eat it within the first 30 seconds, like the little girl in the video who devours hers while listening to the instructions.

One long-term study showed that kids who wait for a second marshmallow do better on SATs, earn more money, and are generally more “successful” in life than the kids who ate their marshmallows immediately. Much has been made over these findings in the past year, most notably in the pages of the New Yorker.

Now Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman debunk the myth that marshmallows can act as a crystal ball to tell us a four-year-old’s future. Looking deeper into the research, they found that both the original study and the one serious long-term follow-up that has been done worked with very small groups of kids.

The scientists themselves say this is not a useful predictor of future success. It is incredibly funny to watch, though. I’d encourage more research on this test just for the hilarity that comes from asking kids about it.

I put this question to my own preschooler last fall:

Me: What would you do if I took you into a room with only a table, a chair and a marshmallow on a plate on the table, and told you that I was going to do some things and that if you waited to eat the marshmallow until I came back, you could have two?

Rio: I would follow you, because I would not like to be left alone in the dark.


Would you eat the marshmallow, or wait for a second? I’m pretty sure I’d be devouring it the moment I was alone. I don’t just mean me as a four-year-old, either. What about your kid? Do you think it matters how long a preschooler can wait for a sweet snack?

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