Thursday, December 2, 2010

One marshmallow immediately eaten will change your life!

It was announced here Wednesday that Walter Mischel, a psychology professor and the Niven Professor of Humane Letters at Columbia will receive the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. He is well known for his decades-long research in the area of delayed gratification and will-power.

I'm sure you are aware of the well known "marshmallow experiment".  From Wikipedia I quote:

The "marshmallow experiment" is a well known test of this concept conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Goleman in his popular work. In the 1960s, a group of four-year-olds were given one marshmallow and promised a second one on the condition that they wait twenty minutes before eating the first one. Some children were able to wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored significantly higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later

As a kid I was taught by my Mother and Grandmother's example and words that when I wanted some thing they thought too expensive to buy and give me, I should save my allowance and buy it myself. To reinforce this one Saturday my sister and I went to the building and loan and got social security numbers and opened passbook savings accounts. This was in 1958 when they gave you actual books about the size of a passport. Deposits and withdrawals were recorded by the teller at the building and loan office.

I began saving $1 a week from my $2.50 a week allowance. On Saturday when we came to town to buy groceries and do banking I would deposit my $1 into that savings account. When I began baby sitting for neighbors, I put that money in the account. That June I worked for a week to help Mrs. Prall clean her house and earned $10. I put the money in the account. It felt good to accumulate money in a savings account. When I started high school I had $350 saved.

This process of saving a little of our income for future larger purchases or in my case for paying taxes at the end of the year, is called delayed gratification. I'm not sure how paying taxes is gratification but if I were to be kicked out of my home for not paying them I might understand it a little better.

The motivation to work hard and save for purchases you cannot afford today, or save for future expenses is described as a Protestant or Calvinistic thing. We Catholics are told we must do good works to be saved. The Protestants say you are destined to be saved and you do good work as a result of that salvation. Now with this study the experiment was verified through scientific research. That doesn't mean we Catholics can't save for future gratification but there is some evidence that through biology we choose to eat the marshmallow immediately more than the other kids. That's for cradle Catholics I would assume.

Prof. Mischel began his work in 1960 and yesterday the award was announced. The Grawemeyer prize is accompanied by a cash payment of $100,000. This pretty much proves in at least an antidotal way that in addition to scientific results, fifty years later the gratification of the second marshmallow was realized for Prof. Mischel.


The first reaction to the buttercup yellow paint soon to cover the Clark Memorial Bridge that spans the Ohio River at Louisville has been published in Letters to the Editor of the Courier-Journal newspaper this week. A local man Rick Thomas has this to say about the color:

I am surprised that citizens are not already complaining about the upcoming color chosen to paint the Second Street Bridge. Should anyone wish to see a sample of this paint color, they need only to drive to Second and Main Street and look at the newly painted railings next to the new KFC Yum! Center leading to the bridge. Please voice your concerns before they begin painting the entire bridge. It is awful.


  1. My mother says that when I was in junior high school I spent a lot of time complaining about jeans. I went to school with the rich kids in our town and we weren't. It wasn't a good mix. She got tired of listening to it and gave me a clothing allowance. It wasn't a lot of money. Prior to that, I didn't want to be seen anywhere near a sales rack in a store. Heaven forbid, someone I know should pass by. Once I was in charge of doing the buying and making that money stretch, she said I could spot a sales rack from across the store. It completely changed my outlook. It also changed my shopping habits. Instead of wanting to go all of the time, it became a semi-annual experience. Sometimes three times a year. She said I did buy one pair of expensive jeans that I had badgered her about for years. After that, she heard not one more word about it. I guess I realized that I could have one pair of jeans or a wardrobe. And shoes. You don't know the value of the dollar until you are the one having to make it cover your needs. Not your wants. Big difference between needs and wants. It was one of the best lessons she ever gave me.

  2. Robin: I understand. I grew up in the country on a farm. People around us might have been wealthy but if they were they didn't live wealthy. My mom made all my clothes so I didn't have any store bought things until I used some of that savings to buy a slacks and sweater outfit when I went to high school.

  3. Thank you, Charlene, for yet another cogent and entertaining post. I'm afraid I made no effort whatsoever to defer my gratification in commenting on it. Further, it's given me an idea for a Lydian Airs post that I'll get down to in a day or two. Thanks!

  4. My youngest child was at infant school when the other two were at primary. Every day I gave the older two money for school lunch. The younger one got his lunch automatically, but because they got money each day I gave him the same.

    He saved it.

    When I picked them up at the end of the day and they bought sweets, he would stay in the car.

    He saved every penny he was ever given, would bring me £10 in change to exchange for a note every so often and ended up with the colossal sum of £350 in his bedroom in a box.

    It took years to save that amount of money.

    I told him it was not a good idea to leave money like that in his room, because it was a temptation for his friends.

    I took the money and put it in a drawer in my room, where he could have access to count it, but please to leave it there????

    I had his room decorated and bought new furniture. He decided he wanted the money box in his new wardrobe. We argued, and in the end he won.

    Another boy stole the lot. He did it over a period of time, and we set up a camera and caught him in the act. I went to see his mother who was apparently distraught about it. I did not go to the police because she was a single parent of four children and I felt she had enough on her plate.

    They never paid a penny back.

    My boy no longer saves.

    Yellow is my favourite colour. I think they should paint the bridge yellow, it will shine in the sun like gold, and lift the spirit as it comes into view.

  5. It's much easier to just steal what you need than do all that delayed gratification stuff.

  6. What an interesting post. I tend to think so many important studies were done many years ago. We should look at the reuslts of them to help us with our current state. Interesting how religion plays a part in it to!

  7. I'm betting I was the instant gratification kid. My mother made us save money in our accounts as soon as we started babysitting or working at all. We had a ton of money saved that went towards college. I learned nothing. I wish I had but I suck at saving. Really suck.

  8. Excellent post.
    I too had one of those passbooks and I loved looking at it and seeing how much I saved.
    Even as a waitress in the summer during high school my parents made me save my tips. I hated that. But it was such a good lesson.

    I don't think kids get lessons anymore....on anything. At least I don't see it.

    Thanks for a great post.

  9. I'd be eating the marshmallow and charging the next at this stage of my life.

  10. I am a saver myself so I went and married a spender, to balance things out a bit I suppose. We argue about money of course :)

  11. live rich and die poor or live poor and die rich?

    of course our children hope we choose the latter.

  12. for a marshmallow I could wait..for a butterfingers candy bar?...probably not.

  13. Christopher: Thank you for stopping by!

    Sarah: That's an unfortunate thing to have happened. I still think he became acclimated to the feeling of saving, which is a good thing!

    Grant: Okey dokey! Thanks for stopping by.

    Les reves d'une boulangere (Brittany): I really enjoy finding out what happens next on this kind of thing.

    Knight: We cannot all be alike! There are the savers and then there are the money lenders and borrowers.

    Margaret (Peggy or Peg too): I agree.

    Bathwater: LOL some of us are like that and some the ones who waited for the second marshmallow.

    Liberality: I guess it balances out? My husband was more of a saver than I. Though anyone who knows me knows I'm one to save for that big thing I wanted.

    Billy pilgrim: My mother always worried about outliving her money. She didn't but I aspire to spending my last $1 on my funeral.

    YELLOWDOG GRANNY: I understand your Butterfinger logic!

  14. I grew up in a small town with several department stores where we had charge accounts, before you needed an actual credit card. In Jr. High, I just went in, got what I wanted and charged it to my parents. A few years later, after building a new house, we were more budgeted, but I still got lots of clothes. It was a rude awakening when I got to college and was on my own. I worked two jobs and while in school to pay for rent and utilities and food. There were weeks I had to roll pennies to buy bread, milk and peanut butter. My kids don't get toys, etc. unless it's Christmas or their birthdays. They have to save their $$ for fun stuff between the two holidays.

  15. What a good girl you were...and still are!

    Saving to pay taxes; I did that for so many years. I'd like to report that I didn't mind, that I was never late on estimated quarterlies, that I paid them every penny. I think that says more about my politics than about my religion. I'd like to see some numbers on the percentage of Republican business owners who pay their taxes fully and on time vs. the number of Democratic business owners who do. For that matter, I'd like to see the percentage of Republicans who own businesses vs. the percentage of Democrats.

    I'll be back; I've got some more research to do. It's always something.

  16. I have always been a saver because having watched how we had to live with our parents, my sister and I both fear the consequences if we were to have nothing and some crisis occurs..
    Our childhood was a long tirade of having to watch our parents constantly arguing because they were always in debt, and we thought it was our faults that they had no money.
    I think the marshmallow theory may hold some water, but I rather think life and it's experiences are what shape people into who they are and the living of that life is what builds character. A Leopard can change it's spots if it has to.

    Without wanting to sound pompous I think the marshmallow theory is a bit too obvious a theory to be profound, and we may be genetically predisposed to be greedy or weak, but life got in there first

  17. I wouldn't have eaten the marshmallow at all, but that's only because I don't care for them. Now if had been a big hunk of chocolate...

  18. Howdy, haven't been around for a while.

    Well, I agree with your post and what the research overall means too. I for one am one of those who would eat the 2nd and 3rd marshmallow right away, if I liked them. Seeing the "delayed gratification" method applied by other people I know around the family and friends, I could testify this as to be true.

  19. I had one of those savings books, too! I felt soooo grown up when I first got one, and LOVED to deposit even the tiniest amounts, so that it would be added (by hand!!) by the bank teller!

    I have to say, I apply delayed gratification in my daily life. If I have a daunting task in front of me, I'll say to myself, "OK, lets get this done, and then you can take yourself to the MALL!!" Unfortunately, that's where the "delayed" part stops, because I have no problem putting my mall purchase on my Amex! Sigh!

  20. Very interesting post...I wish I had read it when I was 11. I did save up $650 by the time I was 15. Then I spent it on a plane ticket and haven't been a saver since.

  21. A thought occurs....... perhaps they should incorporate this marshmallow into the school curriculum.

    If you eat this marshmallow you will never do well in life.......

    If you wait, you will make it to University, have a fabulous career, marry a beautiful woman, have even more beautiful children, a mistress, a yacht, and a house in the Hamptons.. and a really really ...nice car! if you wait just a bit longer.

    If you walk away from the table and don't eat the marshmallow, you will become a monk

    If you sell that marshmallow to a child who has eaten theirs too soon, you will become President


  22. Our economy is consumer driven - delayed gratification would bring down what's left of it.

    If people knew how to pace themselves, credit cards would not exist.

    We are being bombarded with ads - buy, buy, buy now - immediately. You MUST have it.

  23. What if you are a Buddhist and understand that the only reality is the Now and the future cannot exist because you can only experience the Now?

  24. FrouFrouBritches: We never got toys except at Christmas and even then not after we were 10 or so. There was only 1 department store in my small town and I cannot imagine charging anything to Mom's account; if she had an account.

    Nance: I'd like to see that study too.

    Sarah: I think the marshmallow experiment and the follow-up is profound because the subjects of it were 4 years old. In the 1960 world they were innocents and therefore the best subjects.

    Rudee: Maybe a chocolate version of the experiment should be done??

    PorkStar: There wasn't a third marshmallow in the experiment.

    Anything Fits A Naked Man: I always do the difficult task first then I know I can relax and read a book or bake a cake.

    Sandra: That's funny. Truly, I save and then buy what I want. I have been in debt but never to a negative extent and I feel so much better to save for the thing I want than to owe for it.

    Sarah: I don't think it would work in school as the children would be more "worldly: by school age.

    Wolynski: I never said I NEVER bought anything. I was illustrating how the study said successful people saved for what they bought by delaying gratification and thereby not being behind all their lives.

    As to advertising and MUST HAVE things. I wanted a 50" flat screen television when they were first advertised for $10,000. I started saving and in 2008 I bought one for $1000. This would seem to prove that if you delay your gratification long enough the price of what you want will be 1% of what it was when you first wanted it! SMILE

    Trooper Thorn: I don't know. This experiment had nothing to do with religion, or at least it was not mentioned! But thinking about that, would that indicate that all Buddhists who get what they want immediately going in debt to do so, are ultimately as successful as the others who save for what they want? Sounds like you might need to do a new experiment!

  25. Since I don't like marshmallows I would have won that contest quite handily but had it been pieces of dark chocolate..

    Nice to see your cool blog. Thanks for your visit.

  26. Wow -- I don't think I would have minded it being delayed -- $100,000 is one hell of a marshmallow!

  27. When I was a child, I saved money, like you. My sister did not. She purchased penny candy, mostly. It irritated the hell out of me. I definitely felt superior.

    One day I challenged her profligate behavior, and she asked me: "What good is money if you can't spend it?"

    Later in life, she got more advance degrees than I, became fluent in Spanish, something I attempted and failed and worked an inferior job anyway.

    I am not sure what it means, but I know that ultimately, she was the responsible one.


Comments are encouraged.