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  • Writer's pictureStacy Taylor, LCSW

Who Ate the Marshmallow?

Several decades ago there was this very cute, but also illuminating, research study that was done with children. Researchers had the young tykes sit in a room alone, with a task to perform.

In front of the children was a marshmallow. The hungry children were told to not, under any circumstances, eat the marshmallow. They were to execute a task, and then, when the researchers returned to the room, the reward would be the marshmallow.

The researchers taped the children sitting alone in the room. Some of the children sat there, staring at the marshmallow and squirming in their seats. These kids tried as hard as they could to not eat the treat. But eventually they succumbed and ate the marshmallow.

Another group of children also struggled to not eat the marshmallow. And when the researchers returned, the marshmallow remained in its spot, untouched.

The third group of children didn't struggle at all. As soon as the researchers left the room, the child picked up the marshmallow and ate it.

What happened after this is even more interesting. The researchers tracked the three groups for decades. They wanted to prove, or disprove, their theories. They theorized that the children who immediately ate the marshmallow would struggle in life: this group would seek immediate gratification; make poor, impulsive decisions; have marriage and job problems; and a higher rate of substance abuse.

Researchers believed that the most successful group would be the children who didn't eat the marshmallow. Those children, now adults, would have the perseverance and patience to withstand failures and frustrations. They would have happier marriages and better careers. And when the children were tracked, the researchers found out that their theories were right!

It may be interesting to ask yourself what you would have done as a child in the same experiment. Would you have tried not to eat the marshmallow but succumbed? Would you have snatched it up right away and eaten it? Or would you have had the will power to not eat the marshmallow? Perhaps the answer may provide some insight into your journey in life.

See the ways that you react to temptations now. Can you delay getting what you want? Can you focus on your goals and your relationships with others instead of immediate gratification? Or are you continually seeking pleasure and fun, sometimes to your detriment. It's never to late to wait to "eat the marshmallow."

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