Thursday, January 26, 2012

Will you eat the marshmallow?

Last Sunday, during Victory service, I saw this funny video of kids trying their very best to resist eating a marshmallow:

The “marshmallow experiment” involved kids who were given a marshmallow but were told that if they wait for a few more minutes and not eat that marshmallow, they will be given another. This is what American psychologist Dr. Walter Mischel did more than 40 years ago to test the willpower of children and understand the development of deferred gratification, or the ability to wait before obtaining something that one wants, among children. Some children were able to control themselves and not eat the marshmallow, while others did not.

I found out that after 40 years, a follow-up study was conducted among the same children, who were now adults. The adults were divided in two groups: high-delayers (those who resisted eating the marshmallow then) and the low-delayers (those who did not). Then, the groups were exposed to two tests. In the first test, the participants were shown a series of faces and were asked to press a button only when a face of one gender was shown. This test revealed no significant differences between the two groups. In the second test, the participants were shown a happy or frightened face and were asked to push a button when they saw one but not the other. The happy faces took the place of the marshmallow as the “reward” in the experiment. The researchers expected that the low delayers will have trouble in refraining to push the button if they see happy faces, even when they were not supposed to.

What is interesting about the experiment is that the researchers found out that the same differences in the ability to defer gratification remained in the participants now that they are adults. In other words, the children who ate the marshmallow are the ones likely to have trouble in “pressing the button” as adults. The study is important in understanding self-control and responding to temptations, especially when they see something they think is rewarding for them.

Now, what does this all mean to us?

We all have been in situations wherein we acted based on impulse especially when we are enticed to something extraordinary or unexpected: we go on a sudden shopping spree when we see the red and white SALE sign on or we overeat when food choices are always mouth-watering, among other things. But I think, whenever these situations arise, I will be reminded of this experiment. To resist the temptations, I will always remind myself, “I will not eat the marshmallow!”

Angeli I. Serapio, Entry #6

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