Monday, May 18, 2009

'Don't Eat the Marshmallow'

Nice Man showed me this fascinating article in The New Yorker. It's about a psychology experiment designed to measure self-control. Four-year-old kids were left alone in a room, sitting at a desk. On the desk was a marshmallow. The kids were told they could have two marshmallows if they waited and didn't eat the first one. If they ate the first one, that was their lot. Predictably, some of the kids could delay gratification and others crumbled and ate the first marshmallow.

But the scientists followed them up years later and discovered that the 'delayers' had higher IQ's and fewer behavioural problems than the non-delayers. In fact, the delayers managed life much better all round.

I wonder how long I'd have held off eating the marshmallow.

I remember when I was about five, asking my mum for an ice cream just before dinner. She wisely said no. I ran to my dad and asked for 2 pence (yes, 2p!) and with that 2 pence I bought a Mr Whippy cone with strawberry sauce. I think I took two licks of it, then threw it behind a wall, like Judas with the thirty pieces of silver.

I liked the end of the article where it said that 'even the most mundane routines of childhood, like not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning - are really sly exercises in cognitive training.' Apparently this is the most valuable training your parents can give you. And I realise my parents gave me all of the above.

Once I instigated an argument with Nice Man when he ate a roast chicken leg just before we went to my parents' for dinner. Yikes, it's not as if I can just benefit from the delayer 'rules'. Sometimes I have to annoy myself by my inflexible adherence to them years later. It obviously runs deep.

Still, I'm guessing I'll steer Mr Hugh away from any ice cream vans just before dinner time. Or I'll tell him that when the van plays the music, it means they've run out of ice cream.


1 comment:

nmj said...

Hey C, As a child I would *definitely* not have eaten the marshmallow. Even five years ago I would not have eaten the marshmallow.

Now, I would grab the marshmallow.