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.