Whole Brain Catalog

Eat This!

A psychological test of temptation.

In 1968 Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel tempted hungry four-year-olds with a delicious deal. His researchers placed children, one at a time, in a room where they sat alone with a puffy white marshmallow. The children were told that they could either eat the marshmallow right away or they could wait for fifteen minutes – at which point they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Then the researcher left the room.

One third of the children gobbled up the marshmallow right away.

One third controlled their appetites for a little while but eventually caved.

One third resisted temptation for the full fifteen minutes and received their reward.

Thirteen years later Mischel did follow-up research that found dramatic differences between the two groups (the gobblers and the resisters). The gobblers, now high school students, were more likely to have behavioral problems and low attention spans, and they found it difficult to maintain friendships. Meanwhile the resisters were thriving. They averaged 210 points higher on their SAT scores than the gobblers. Mischel continued tracking these groups into their late thirties and found that, as adults, the gobblers had more weight problems and were more likely to have had drug problems too.

Mischel’s study points to the need to teach our children self-control, to give them the tools to resist the temptations of consumer culture and the notion that all wants must be immediately satiated. According to Mischel, the daily rituals and activities that go on in the home can be a training ground where we teach our children how to think so they can outsmart desire. Simple things – not snacking before dinner, saving up allowance, not opening gifts until Christmas morning – are actually important exercises in cognitive training that equip children to resist.

When one in two adults are overweight, when obesity has become the number one health risk and when financial meltdowns are caused by the lure of easy credit and the desire for luxurious marshmallowy castles, it is past time to act. We must learn to resist. The marshmallow has been winning for too long.

—Andrew Tuplin

38 comments on the article “Eat This!”

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eMoMaD

Did you know that in christianity eating before the right time is considered gluttony. It has came to my knowledge that the same experiment had been done with monkeys. All of them ate the food before the time needed for the reward. Later the experiment has been repeated but this time different toys have been placed in the room. The result has been totaly different. The monkeys start playing the toys to change the direction of their attention and so they were able to wait for the reward. This way ignoring the food there is no temptation. Obesity is also a result of the so into us sloth. A man who stays infront of the screen is much more gluttonius than an active one. You can't beat the vices one by one, you have to change all your being.

eMoMaD

Did you know that in christianity eating before the right time is considered gluttony. It has came to my knowledge that the same experiment had been done with monkeys. All of them ate the food before the time needed for the reward. Later the experiment has been repeated but this time different toys have been placed in the room. The result has been totaly different. The monkeys start playing the toys to change the direction of their attention and so they were able to wait for the reward. This way ignoring the food there is no temptation. Obesity is also a result of the so into us sloth. A man who stays infront of the screen is much more gluttonius than an active one. You can't beat the vices one by one, you have to change all your being.

Anonymous

>eMoMaD said: "Did you know that in christianity eating before the right time is considered gluttony."

I've never heard of this. If you're referring to scripture perhaps you could say exactly what in the bible you're alluding to?

Anonymous

>eMoMaD said: "Did you know that in christianity eating before the right time is considered gluttony."

I've never heard of this. If you're referring to scripture perhaps you could say exactly what in the bible you're alluding to?

eMoMaD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony
I think I've seen the monkey experiment in Robert Winston's "The human instincts" series.
Don't you think that advertising educates gluttony in children?

eMoMaD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony
I think I've seen the monkey experiment in Robert Winston's "The human instincts" series.
Don't you think that advertising educates gluttony in children?

Anonymous

The premise of the article is compelling, yet from published follow-up studies, the data seems to be limited, or the test group far too small for a broad conclusion.

Yet, the broad conclusion in this article seems to be that ritualized waiting is critical to developing a way to "resist the marshmallow". Check. And good luck with that one.

The first comment about the "Christian" stance on what is considered gluttony, followed by the comment requesting an actual citation of scripture is pure baiting. No such scripture exists and I am near certain the individual knows this.

According to my understanding, gluttony (one of the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins") was something popularized from Christian pulpits some time ago. This co-opting of Christianity merely reinforces what many Americans believe as a flaw in organized religion. Still, I wonder how many people who take issue with the co-opting of religion actually take the time to study scripture, present company excluded.

As far as the reference to distracted monkeys goes, I wonder what other readers consider the difference between the substitution of one temptation for another. A toy to figit with while waiting for the time to pass before taking the marshmallow is a mere distraction. Still, I suppose this is why men bulid skyscrapers.

To me, what is most distressing about human civilization is our (possible) propensity to reinvent the wheel. I do wonder what would happen in the event of cataclysm. Say that 90 percent of the human population suddenly would just drop dead, leaving our consumer-based culture into a near halt. How many generations wouldit take for us to reinvent our idols? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop?

Anonymous

The premise of the article is compelling, yet from published follow-up studies, the data seems to be limited, or the test group far too small for a broad conclusion.

Yet, the broad conclusion in this article seems to be that ritualized waiting is critical to developing a way to "resist the marshmallow". Check. And good luck with that one.

The first comment about the "Christian" stance on what is considered gluttony, followed by the comment requesting an actual citation of scripture is pure baiting. No such scripture exists and I am near certain the individual knows this.

According to my understanding, gluttony (one of the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins") was something popularized from Christian pulpits some time ago. This co-opting of Christianity merely reinforces what many Americans believe as a flaw in organized religion. Still, I wonder how many people who take issue with the co-opting of religion actually take the time to study scripture, present company excluded.

As far as the reference to distracted monkeys goes, I wonder what other readers consider the difference between the substitution of one temptation for another. A toy to figit with while waiting for the time to pass before taking the marshmallow is a mere distraction. Still, I suppose this is why men bulid skyscrapers.

To me, what is most distressing about human civilization is our (possible) propensity to reinvent the wheel. I do wonder what would happen in the event of cataclysm. Say that 90 percent of the human population suddenly would just drop dead, leaving our consumer-based culture into a near halt. How many generations wouldit take for us to reinvent our idols? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop?

Bek S.

Your statement about replacing one distraction with another is legitimate. However, there's a fine line between this and filling the void with something more than a distraction. That is... it's easy to live a comfortably distracted and comfortably numb life if you're eating, watching, consuming yourself to death. But a different story arises when you actually feel the activities in which you engage, when you're actually stimulating the core of your being rather than distracting via external stimulation.

Bek S.

Your statement about replacing one distraction with another is legitimate. However, there's a fine line between this and filling the void with something more than a distraction. That is... it's easy to live a comfortably distracted and comfortably numb life if you're eating, watching, consuming yourself to death. But a different story arises when you actually feel the activities in which you engage, when you're actually stimulating the core of your being rather than distracting via external stimulation.

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