What's in a marshmallow?

I mean aside from gelatin and sugar... 

This great video shows a recreation of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  It's funny but behind it is a really interesting and somewhat daunting piece of social science.  The Stanford psychologist, Walter Mischel, who performed this experiment in the late 60s and early 70s wasn't looking for cute video of kids contorting themselves to exercise some restraint.  He wanted to know when children develop the ability to defer gratification, when do they become able to say, "I'll suffer a little now for a payoff later".  He wanted to know what variables allow children to hold out and what internal mechanisms they used to defer getting the goodies.  It was no surprise to Mischel that older children generally held out more effectively for the doubled treat.  What was most surprising was that happened when Mischel followed up with the original test subjects years later.  Mischel and others have found that when adjusted for age at the time of the original testing, children who put off eating the marshmallow do better on SATs are more socially competent and self-assured, feel a higher sense of self-worth and are perceived by their parents as more mature.  They cope better with stress, are more likely to plan ahead, and more likely to use reason.  It turns out that learning how to defer gratification is incredibly important in our society.  No doubt some of us are genetically predisposed to be a little bit better at deferring gratification than others, but there definitely learned skills that make up a huge piece of it.  Learning to distract one's self and focus on the promised reward are important pieces that can be learned.  Another important piece which isn't often mentioned in discussion of the marshmallow experiment is trust.  In his original experiments, MIschel had some kids get betrayed by the tester in a small way before being offered the marshmallow.  Quite sensibly, they were much more likely to gobble what was in front of them rather than wait for a reward offered by someone untrustworthy.  Kids who learn that others generally follow through on their commitments will be more likely to defer gratification and reap the benefits.  Kids whose experience shows them that people don't follow through will be prepared for a world of subsistence, grabbing what they can in the moment. 

So what's the takeaway.  Give your kids practice with deferred gratification. View deferring gratification as a set of skills that can be improved.  Those old parental standbys, distraction, focusing on the future benefits need to be repeated and repeated and repeated.  And make sure to follow-through with what you said.  Deferred gratification on;y makes sense when you think you have a chance of getting the second marshmallow in the end.