01 December 2006

Learning Self-Control: The Marshmallow Studies

From the transcript of the latest Philosophers Zone:

Neil Levy: "There's a wonderful set of studies showing how children gradually learn self-control, the so-called Marshmallow Studies, after the reward that was given to children. Children are asked just to delay gratification in these studies. They were told, 'You can have one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if you wait. You can have one marshmallow whenever you like. If you wait long enough, I'll give you two.' Very young children can't wait; within a few seconds, they're eating the first marshmallow. The older the child gets, the longer it can wait, and the length of waiting, the ability to defer gratification, is a very good predictor of a whole range of other achievements later in life. So for instance, it's a very good predictor - much better than IQ I believe, predictor of academic success. The child is learning how to delay its gratification to make itself a single being able to pursue goals which are maximally beneficial to itself, or which it perceives as maximally beneficial to itself, and it does that by learning a set of techniques which distract the self, distract the parts that want immediate gratification, which squelch them, which weaken their power. And I think these are the kinds of mechanisms that unify the self."


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