The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test

Mastering Self-Control

Little, Brown US, 2014 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Background
  • Concrete Examples


Cognition researcher Walter Mischel offers a useful, accessible report to give readers a greater understanding of the role of self-control and how it relates to crucial mental attributes. He starts by describing the “Marshmallow Test,” which challenges small children to try to wait before eating a single marshmallow long enough to earn a second marshmallow. He integrates other authorities’ scientific studies on self-control, links the data to solving real-world problems and explains how individual Marshmallow Test results predicted kids’ future success. He also gives you a greater understanding of the role of self-control and how it relates to crucial mental attributes and to control of harmful habits. His book will please those who want to help kids succeed, to learn how the mind functions or to improve their self-control.


“The Marshmallow Test”

In the 1960s, cognitive-science researcher Walter Mischel began a series of studies – known as the Marshmallow Test – at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Mischel’s research team gave preschoolers a choice between earning “one reward,” such as a marshmallow, immediately, or earning “two rewards,” like two marshmallows, if they could wait 20 minutes.

Mischel watched the little boys and girls struggle not to end their chance to earn a double reward. It turned out that the way they fought for self-control and whether they managed to delay gratification indicated a lot about how they’d do in school and in their future lives. The kids who left the treat alone and waited to earn two treats devised their own “distraction strategies” to resist temptation and to handle conflict and stress. Some distracted themselves by talking or singing. Some looked away. Some gave themselves orders. When researchers repeated the test with pictures of the desired treats, the children could wait much longer; they knew they couldn’t eat the pictures. Kids also held out longer when researchers suggested that they should imagine the treats sitting in front of them...

About the Author

The co-author of Introduction to Personality, Walter Mischel is a professor of humane letters in psychology at Columbia University. He has written more than 200 scientific papers.

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