The Stanford marshmallow test is a psychological experiment that goes back to the ’60s. As The Atlantic described it earlier this month:
Put a marshmallow in front of a child, tell her that she can have a second one if she can go 15 minutes without eating the first one, and then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her payout is supposedly indicative of a willpower that will pay dividends down the line, at school and eventually at work. Passing the test is, to many, a promising signal of future success.
The future success is due to the fact that “the ability to delay gratification in childhood… has been linked to a range of positive outcomes, including greater academic achievement, stronger ability to deal with stress, maintain a healthy weight, engage in social responsibility, and forge positive relationships with peers,” according to Newsweek.
Decades later, and social-science researchers are still using the marshmallow test on 3- to 5-year-olds. What’s more, you might have assumed that the screen-obsessed Gen Z population would be less likely to wait that full 15 minutes, as accustomed as they are to having something to look at at every opportunity, with fewer occasions for merely sitting still. And you would not be alone in that assumption: “Around 72 percent of 358 U.S. adults who took part in an online survey as part of the study said they expected today’s children to wait less than previous generations. Three quarters said they would have less self-control.”
But Newsweek reports that according to a new report published in the journal Developmental Psychology, “Children who took part in the study in the 2000s waited two minutes longer on average than those in the 1960s, and one minute longer than those in the 1980s, the researchers found,” suggesting “that today’s kids can delay gratification longer than children in the 1960s and 1980s.”
This is one of those findings that appears to flummox researchers, although they point to possible factors like “increases in abstract thought, changes in parenting, and higher enrollment and quality of early childhood education. The sample of children also was limited to relatively higher socioeconomic status families in the U.S,” who may be used to more treats and therefore not quite as anxious to get that marshmallow.
Still, props to those kids for their patience. Personally, we adhere to the credo of our patron saint Carrie Fisher: Instant gratification takes too long.