A scientist has revealed how his granddaughter once stunned him with her response to the ‘marshmallow test’ — a well-known experiment that tests a child’s ability to delay gratification.
Richard Muller, 74, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, took to the website Quora to recount his daughter’s surprisingly touching reaction to the test.
Layla was three when Richard tried the test on her. The experiment consists in giving a child a tasty treat such as a marshmallow and tell them that they can either eat it right away or wait for 15 minutes, in which case they will get a second one.
When Richard performed the experiment with Layla, he did so with chocolate, which she likes ‘much more’, and told her she’d get another piece if she waited 10 minutes.
‘According to extensive experiments, children who “pass” the “marshmallow test” are far more successful in later life,’ Richard wrote.
‘They have learned a fundamental truth in life, that delayed gratification can lead to a far better long-term outcome.’
Layla successfully let 10 minutes elapse and simply watched the chocolate.
At that point, she asked for her extra chocolate, which Richard gave to her, meaning she had two pieces of chocolate in her hand.
‘That’s when she looked up at me and asked, “Would you like one, Grandpa?”‘ the proud grandfather recounted.
Richard was deeply touched by Layla’s response to the test, which goes beyond the standard expectations for children who take it.
While the test is usually viewed as a way to test a child’s response to the possibility of a bigger, but delayed, reward, Layla’s reaction presented itself as an unexpected act of generosity.
‘Needless to say, from that moment on I would readily give my life for her,’ he wrote.
The marshmallow test has faced new skepticism in recent months.
Researchers from New York University and the University of California, Irvine, conducted a new version of the experiment with 900 children — a much bigger sample size than before — and while taking into account factors such as the income of each child’s household, as noted by The Atlantic.
The new study challenged the idea that a child’s ability to delay gratification was a reliable indicator of their likelihood to succeed later in life.
Instead, it seemed to show that a child’s capacity to delay gratification depends vastly on their economic and social background, meaning those factors would in fact shape a child’s future success.