Who Could Resist Eating a Marshmallow?

The marshmallow test is an experimental framework that measures a child's ability to delay gratification. The kid is given the option of receiving a marshmallow immediately or waiting a little longer to get two. The minutes or seconds passed a kid stays for measures their ability to delay gratification.

White ceramic mug on book, filled with marshmallow.
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

The American psychologist Walter Michel and his colleagues designed the conditions that promote delay of gratifying. They've built an experimental framework, the marshmallow test, in which a kid has to choose between eating a single piece of marshmallow immediately or waiting 15 minutes to receive two pieces.

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

In 1970 at Stanford University, Walter Michel, a professor of psychology, and his graduate student, Ebbe Ebbesen, have designed and ran the experiment with 32 preschoolers. At the time of the experiment, the main result was that they found the preschoolers could wait longer for the two marshmallows if they were visible during the exercise. The children who couldn't see the two marshmallows, only heard the researcher's promise, were not able to wait that long.

The study has shown that gratification delay is involved in suppressing rather than enhancing attention to achieve rewards. For instance, some kids who waited with insight would just look at a mirror, close their eyes, or talk to themselves rather than stare at the marshmallow.

As a follow-up study, the same researchers contacted the kids 10 years later and found that the kids who could resist eating the marshmallow as preschool students had better school grades.

How Children Reacted

The experiment started by bringing each kid into a separate room, sitting them down on a chair, and placing the single marshmallow on the desk in front of them.

At this point, the experimenter makes a deal with the kid. They told them that he would leave the room and that if the kid could wait until his return without eating the marshmallow while he was away, they would give the kid an additional marshmallow. However, if the kid planned to eat the first one before the experimenter returned, the kid would not get a second marshmallow. So the choice was simple:

One thing right now or two things after some time.

Next, the experimenter left the room for 10 to 15 minutes. The kids looked very funny, waiting alone in the room, staring at the marshmallow. Some kids couldn't wait at all. They ate the marshmallow immediately as the experimenter closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced in scooted in their chairs as they tried to stop themselves, but eventually, they couldn't resist the temptation any longer. And finally, a few kids did manage to wait the entire time and received their reward.

Delayed Gratification Definition

Success is achieved by accepting the pain over the ease of distraction, which is all about delayed gratification.

The ability to resist an impulse to take the immediately available reward, hoping to obtain a more valued reward in the future and delay gratification is essential to self-control. This highlights an interesting question:

Did some kids naturally have more self-control, and thus we are destined for success? Or can you learn to build this critical quality?

The skill to delay gratification is probably the most difficult challenge we face in life. Every action has many outcomes, doing or waiting for a little more before we do it.

The standard definition of delayed gratification is the power to delay an impulse for a sudden reward or receive a better prize later. Studies have shown that the strength to delay reward is available in highly successful people.


Willpower is the ability to control or resist yourself to achieve a particular goal.

American Psychological Association phrase that an integral portion of this is using the operation to better understand unwanted thoughts and feelings. Willpower involves being able to intentionally manage yourself when required. Delayed gratification is another key to willpower.

It is the ability to resist short-term desire to achieve the long-term reward. When a larger long-term reward is at stake, it can serve as the motivation needed to avoid temptations.

Willpower is not unlimited, though, and it can be consumed when it's overused. A demanding lifestyle can quickly destroy even those with the most will.