Marshmallow Experiment

So you’ve heard about the marshmallow experiment, right? Is the most cited and linked to experiment in sociology and the foundation of today’s North American pedagogy.

I believe the experiment is stupid, though. It doesn’t identify children who will be high-achievers. All it does is identify those kids who will spend their lives struggling with obesity.

This is not a starving society, to put it mildly. So a child who is desperate to earn an extra marshmallow is simply somebody who already has a very unhealthy relationship with food.

It is no wonder that we see so many overweight children when weird rituals related to food consumption are touted as something positive.

9 thoughts on “Marshmallow Experiment”

  1. How do you expain that

    ” In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment,body mass index (BMI) and other life measures. ” [wiki]

    See, they checked BMI too.

    May be, the important component wasn’t food itself, but the desire to always earn the maximum.


    1. Preferred rewards are one thing, and an unhealthy greed for junk food is completely different.

      Jokes aside, all that these tests measure is the capacity of certain children to figure out what the adults want and follow their natural desire to please. It is extremely easy to manipulate such a test.


      1. The ability to figure out what’s expected of you by people with more power than you and doing it (within reason) is not equally distributed among all people and the study does seem to do a reasonably good job of telling which children have that particular skill which correlates better with good life outcomes than those who simply do what they want as soon as they want or who rebel for the sake of rebellion.


  2. This isn’t about food, this is about the ability to follow arbitrary rules. All this does is distinguish between welltrained children that are obedient to any kind of authority and those that are not.

    And of course they keep on performing good. They just keep following all the rules and do what any half-authority of a person demands of them and they keep rolling. These are also the same people that sit in college later and complain about tests that contain actual content and not just boxes to tick off.


    1. Oh please – people do not fit so neatly into boxes. A person can follow arbitrary rules because they know it’s not worth the hassle to break them and still be a critical thinker. Many of us who follow this blog are academics and put up with BS administrative crap all the time because it allows us to do what we love and isn’t worth the energy to fight it (for the moment). Are you saying we are all trained monkeys? Or that it’s not possible for a bright child to do the same thing?


  3. The US has been having its marshmallow experiment for a very long time now. When people from other countries go there even for a few weeks, guess what they come back looking like?


  4. They actually redid the marshmallow experiment recently, and found that instead of self-control or ability to follow directions or whatever, the thing that made the difference in whether a child took the marshmallow immediately or waited for the second marshmallow was whether they came from a family where they actually got things they were promised. The child has to have faith that the person doing the experiment actually will return with another marshmallow later, so if you’re used to disappointment it will make sense for you to take what is offered immediately, because you can’t count on future offers actually being fulfilled.


    1. “if you’re used to disappointment it will make sense for you to take what is offered immediately, because you can’t count on future offers actually being fulfilled”

      – This makes a lot of sense.


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