What You Can Learn From a Marshmallow

What you can learn from a marshmallow.

– It will change your life!

It’s an age old dilemma; we stare at a plate of chocolate chip cookies after eating just one. We know well that’s all we should eat, but the impulse kicks in and we have another. And another.  Science tells us how this lack of control will affect us long-term, and it’s not just about your waistline.

Impulsive behaviors are often associated with children and adults with autism or ADHD. At times, they lack self-control. Impulsiveness is simply acting without forethought. There is no cause-and-effect rationale with impulsivity; in most instances, this population does not understand the consequences of their impulsive behaviors. The importance of developing self-control or self-regulation has been studied for more than 50 years.

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel from Stanford University did an experiment on delayed gratification – the ability to fend off the impulse to eat another cookie. In his study, the Marshmallow Experiment, Mischel offered preschool children one marshmallow that they could eat immediately. However, he also instructed them if they waited for a little while, he would give them a second marshmallow. This video shows the agony some of these preschoolers went through as they sat alone in a room when having to decide to eat the one marshmallow staring them in the face or wait to reap the rewards of a second marshmallow.

The children used different strategies; some imagined the marshmallow was only a cloud; others distracted themselves by covering their eyes or turning away. They delayed gratification for 15 minutes and earned their second marshmallow.

The preschoolers were followed for many years thereafter. Researchers found that those who were able delay gratification had far better long-term outcomes compared with peers who immediately devoured the marshmallow in less than a minute:

  • They were significantly less likely to have problems with behavior.
  • Far less likely to develop drug addiction.
  • Far less likely to develop obesity by the time they were in high school.
  • The gratification-delayers also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT.

While these outcomes are significant, delayed gratification, in essence, planning for longer-term goals also has practical value. We would like to teach our children to save money for college, save for a new car, or insurance for that car.

Socially, we also want them to make good decisions with careful consideration. This involves everything from what they eat, who they date, and what they try when alone with their friends.

So, it’s incredibly important to teach this skill for every child, but how can we help a child or adult with ADHD or autism learn how to delay gratification?

Modeling the behavior you desire from your child is an important first step. If you tend act impulsively around your child, they are likely to see that behavior as acceptable and not attempt to control it. If you practice a calmer, more planned approach to life, you’ll set a great example.

Because most impulsive people are not aware that they are doing anything wrong, the first step is to create awareness. Strategies can be implemented once awareness has been developed.

The behavior-shaping component in the Play Attention program brings concrete awareness to people who want to understand how to control these impulsive behaviors. We specialize in teaching this behavior and welcome you to attend a webinar to see how this clinically proven method works to teach self-regulation.

More (and somewhat comical) videos of the Marshmallow Experiment:

Mature Marshmallow Experiment

Your attention experts are at www.playattention.com. 800.788.6786.

 

 

 

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