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What a new take on the marshmallow test says about kids, gratification and future success

Hundreds of Marshmallow Peeps, on a layer of blue sugar, move down the conveyor belt.
Hundreds of Marshmallow Peeps, on a layer of blue sugar, move down the conveyor belt.

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The marshmallow test is considered one of the most famous studies on delayed gratification.

It was a series of tests lead by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s, which offered a child a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows if they waited about 15 minutes. An experiment in patience, the research followed less than 90 preschool children, who were enrolled in Stanford’s campus preschool. It also followed the participants to see how they did later in life. The findings pointed to the participants becoming higher achievers, including a correlation with better SAT scores.

But a new group of researchers are trying the marshmallow test again. This time, they’ve tracked data from kids of different races, ethnicities and parents’ education, and have pooled information from a group of more than 900 participants.

The new study found that there may be parallels between instant gratification and a child’s socio-economic background. Sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco wrote in The Atlantic that “daily life holds fewer guarantees... And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.”

Larry speaks to Calarco and the new study’s lead author today, to learn more about the findings.


Tyler Watts, research assistant professor at New York University and lead author of the study, “Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes”; he tweets @tw_watts

Jessica Calarco, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University; she wrote the recent article for The Atlantic, “Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test