15 Minutes

Financial, Relationship and Spiritual Growth. Personal Development. Leadership.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment


A few years back magazines, businesses and psychiatrists were all abuzz about the concept of “Emotional Quotient.” Whereas “Intelligence Quotient” or IQ measures a persons memory, logic, and problem-solving skills; Emotional Quotient or EQ was supposed to be a more advanced indicator of how likely a person was to actually succeed in life.

Years later, it is now called Emotional Intelligence (EI) and I can’t even find an agreed-upon definition of it.

One aspect of EI (or EQ), is self-regulation (depending on who you talk to I guess). Here is an experiment performed with children that was supposed to measure one aspect of their EQ (aka EI).

Each child is given a marshmallow.
They are told that the marshmallow is theirs, that they can eat it right away if they want to and that there is nothing wrong with that.
However, if they waited until the adult came back, and they still had their marshmallow, then they would be given a whole plate of marshmallows.

I never got to watch the experiment (and apparently this was a rerun of an experiment originally performed in Stanford in 1972). But the video was described to me by a doctor (well, a guy who quit during his residency). But it sounds like an episode of Kids Say the Funniest Things, hosted by Bill Cosby.

Some of them wolfed it down the instant the adult left. Some agonized over whether or not they should eat it. Some sat in the corner and would not look at it to remove any temptation to eat the marshmallow.

I don’t know about EQ, EI, or any ground-breaking paradigms of success psychology. But this to me sounds like a test of an ancient and simple idea: that of delayed gratification.

If you have the ability to turn down an immediate small reward, in exchange for a greater future reward, you are probably more poised for success than those who can’t or won’t. You have greater discipline, greater impulse control.

Unfortunately, many adults are like a four year old child scarfing down a marshmallow the instant the adult leaves. In our world of instant everything, the ability to delay your short term desires probably seems not just unnecessary but undesirable.

Is delayed gratification a desirable trait in today’s world?

Author: Matt_S_Law

Matt S. Law is an author focusing on success principle and motivational books. He was born, raised and currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii.

3 thoughts on “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

  1. Balance in everything, whether it includes eating the marshmallows now or later. Eat them all now and there’s nothing to look forward to; wait too long and someone else eats them, they get stale, or you die and miss the opportunity to eat them at all. No word on the availability of marshmallows in the afterlife.

  2. Pingback: Instant Gratification Kills Discipline | 15 Minutes

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