My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stay Puft Deferred Gratification

In 1972, psychologist Walter Mischel, then of Stanford University, created the marshmallow task to test deferred gratification in children. Simplified, a marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, they were promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so was correlated with future success. Following up with the kids years later, that they found that the longer kids had managed to wait, the better they did socially and academically as teens. The new update to this study was released this week and now includes an expansion to a child’s beliefs about the reliability of the people around them and how that can dramatically shape their willingness to wait for a better payoff. The more stable the environment, with consistent, honest interactions and, most importantly, tangible rewards overwhelming lead to the most favorable outcomes. What I found most interesting was the study’s finding of how substantive compensation over ethereal, from dependable authority figures, had such a long-term and profound impact. Having your child earn a new bike by doing specific tasks was quantifiably more valuable in their long-term success than telling them that the potential for acquisition of a bike included some sort of supernatural force. So Santa bringing them a new bike may make them happy, but having them earn a new bike (with Santa bringing them a new helmet) has a much higher probability of producing an adult who understands what it takes to be successful. Ultimately, the study’s findings made it very clear that, in order to give a child the best chance at future success, parents, teachers, guardians and family are strong encouraged to base their long term rewards in reality and not resort to otherworldly threats or rewards.

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