There’s a study that was done by Stanford University about kids ability to resist temptation when they’re young. It’s known as the marshmallow test. A good article about the study was done by the New Yorker called Don’t! The secret of self-control. The kids are taken into a room where they are given a treat. Then, the following happens:
A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room.
Years after the study, Walter Mischel “began to notice a link between the children’s academic performance as teen-agers and their ability to wait for the second marshmallow.” Or, their ability to delay gratification.
I’m pretty sure, when I think back to myself as a little kid, that I would’ve been able to wait. But I think it would be very interesting if I could actually know. I also wonder how much this ability is reflected in successful graduate students?
Much of a grad students life is spent waiting – for acceptance, scholarships, paper acceptance/rejection, research results, etc. There’s very little in grad school that happens immediately. Because we spend so much time waiting, I wonder how good we generally are at putting off gratification.
Is this ability to resist, and wait for good things, a common trait among successful grad students? I would think it is. When I read the following quote, it makes me think it’s an excellent judge of a kids future ability to succeed in a place like grad school.
“What we’re really measuring with the marshmallows isn’t will power or self-control,” Mischel says. “It’s much more important than that. This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”