The secret to success. A phrase that has perplexed mankind from time immemorial. People have always wondered, what are the attributes, that separate the mediocre with the immensely successful people who have climbed the pinnacle of success? Although hard work, intelligence, dedication and many other such criteria and other often repeated clichés have found mention in various scholarly articles, podcast and other popular medias; quite often these broadcasts appear to lack soul stirring evaluation, which can help to judge the practical innate instincts of the subject concerned & his/her potential response to these messages in the real world. Here the role of Marshmallow Test, achieves considerable importance, as it was tested to check response in the most honest group among the human population – toddlers.
This is the term used to describe a series of experimental studies and observation that were conducted in the second half of the 20th century, in Stanford University (Stanford, California, USA), under the guidance of psychologist Walter Mischel, a serving professor at the University. The aim of this study was to study and observe, the quality of self-control. This was done by testing a person’s (children in this case) ability to control and resist their impulses for instant gratification with smaller benefits, when compared to greater rewards on longer wait.
The test was initiated in year 1960, by Walter Mischel, where the subjects of the study, children - between four to six years of age, were offered cookies and marshmallows, placed on a table. They had the liberty to eat one, if they wanted immediately; but if they waited for 15 minutes, they would be rewarded with double the amount. The observer left the room, for this duration, leaving the children alone.
The results obtained were quite surprising. Only the minority among the participants (numbering more than 600 children) succumbed to their temptations immediately. The others tried variety of distractions, like – looking other way, covering the eyes and indulging in other activities, to divert their attention. However only 1/3rd of the participants, did hold up long enough to get the promised rewards. The subjects were also followed up later in life, to ascertain their progress & achievements.
Long term follow - up, revealed direct correlation between the success of the children (later in their life) and their performance in the marshmallows test. The children who had shown self-restraint in the marshmallow test early in life & as a result got double rewards, showed similar pattern of behaviour in their later years also. This translated into better educational achievements, lesser chances of drug abuse, more mental stability and becoming much more productive and competent member of the society. This is certainly easy to understand, if we consider the test as manifestation of a very simple fact – Patience is the key to success in life.
A lot of experts have come up with the theory and actual demonstration, that will power can be increased by many different manoeuvres. They believe that will power is a lot like a muscle and its function can be can be improved in the same way as improving the function of certain muscle groups. Different techniques have been devised for achieving the above-mentioned purpose. Meditation, as practiced by ancient sages in the east, certainly is one of the most popular and time-tested method. This kind of repeated mental exercises, certainly helps people achieve more control over their mind.
In modern times, several other tests have showed that the Marshmallow test were gross oversimplification of a much more complex situation. Parent’s educational background, home environment, financial stability and social factors also made many influences on the final outcome. Children from poorer background obviously faced serious challenges in their home & hence quickly succumbed to their greed, as waiting for better things were not always translated to a guarantee of a better tomorrow; for them, a bird in hand was always better than 2 birds in the bush.
Children from more educated and financially affluent background, have grown up in a much more secured environment and hence are of more trusting in nature. They are more optimistic about the future, as they have experienced happy endings in majority of the situations, hence can easily afford to wait for better things. So, children from well off backgrounds, could afford to wait for long term for better & improved benefits, instead of being happy with less, even if it is available quickly.
Patience, perseveration and pursuit of ambition, also depends on family background and resources available. Struggles of daily life (or its absence) as well as past experiences (including betrayal of trust), go a long way in deciding a person’s nature, which sometimes radically changes with passage of time. Human behaviour is of much more complex nature, to be explained by one simple experiment. However, Marshmallow test continues to retain its important place in the academic world, because of its simplicity and the to predict the future of children concerned, by simple evaluation of basic human nature as – will power and self-control.