The Marshmallow Test

If you’ve studied child development you’ve probably seen a video similar to the one below. Dr. Walter Mischel did a longtidunal study on children ages 3-5 years old. He gave them 1 marshmallow in a room by themselves. If they waited to eat it until he came back-he’d give them another. If they didn’t want to wait they could ring a bell and eat it right away-but would not get a second. He followed the children’s lives into adulthood and found that the children that had a hard time with self-regulation in early childhood tended to also struggle with things like, relationships, academics, and behavioral issues while the children that waited for the 2nd marshmallow tended to “succeed” in those things.

Now, I know do not know if Dr. Mischel loves Jesus or not. But I do know that this study doesn’t prove anything about the children’s hearts. They could have great grades, good relationships and go to a good college but their lives could also be filled with pride and their hearts may or may not love Jesus. Hearts are always more important than behavior. As Tedd Tripp talks about in his book “Shepherding a Child’s heart” we so often focus on behavior and miss the heart. Reaching the heart of a child is the best way to impact their behavior.

So though the test misses something huge in the life of every child- it did make me think. What this experiment can point us to is that teaching children the importance of self-regulation (I would say self-denial) for a greater reward (being satisfied in the love of Christ) has long term effects. Also, the years of 0-5 will be a very important window of time to teach self-denial for sake of knowing Christ more. Thanks Dr. Mischel. Enjoy the humorous re-make of the original experiment.

I remember watching a similar video and the professor asked us to watch what the children did in order to delay gratification: some looked away, some tapped fingers, etc, etc. In this particular video it’s pretty funny to watch and see how close they try and get to it, without eating it. Human nature, eh?

To read more about Mischel & his experiment there’s a pretty good article here.

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