Friday, October 5, 2012

The Marshmallow Test

Several years ago, I read about an experiment to try with one's five-year-old child, in order to determine if your child is able to delay gratification.  I found a few youtube videos about it and watched them.  I then tried the experiment with Matthew several times when he was five, and I decided to try it with Lizzie last week.

The idea is that you sit a child down at a table and put a marshmallow in front of her.  Then you tell her that you are going to leave her alone in the room for exactly five minutes.  Tell her that it's ok for her to eat that marshmallow while you are away; however, that if she does not eat the marshmallow, you will give her a second marshmallow when you come back to the room in five minutes.  You ask if she understands and then leave the room.

This is what I did with Lizzie last week.  Except I didn't use a marshmallow because she hates marshmallows.  Instead, I used her favourite candy in the world:  a super sour gummy worm.  Oh, and I did it just before breakfast (great parent, I know) so that she would be hungry.  I put the gummy worm in front of her on the table, explained the rules and turned on the timer.  I collared the boys and left the room with them; the three of us went upstairs, and I explained to the boys what we were doing.  In order for the house to be silent for Lizzie's 'test,' I shut the boys into a bedroom with me and told them that we could only whisper for the next five minutes.

None of the three of us in the bedroom thought that she would last the five minutes with the gummy worm sitting in front of her.  To be honest, we didn't think she'd even last a half minute.  Were I a gambler I would have bet the house against her.  We all simply know that Lizzie is not one who can endure much more than a nanosecond of delayed gratification.  She'll receive a candy from somewhere and, like the boys, say that she is going to save it for later; but, unlike the boys, she will then pop it into her mouth and moan audibly while sucking on it, and continue to profess that she is going to save it.  This is the girl who eats her favourite foods from her plate first; who salivates at the prospect of chewing on something she loves, like a piece of sausage.

No way is she going to last five minutes, we all said.  We all three (cruelly, I suppose) laughed at the idea of her waiting it out.  Matthew recalled the times I administered the same test to him and how he would ask to wait for a further five minutes if it meant he'd get three; he's a boy who saves and treasures his little treats and has little problem delaying gratification for days and weeks and even months!  Seth is showing signs of being just like Matthew in this regard.

But Lizzie...uh uh.  We all knew it.

We were all wrong!!

Just before the five minutes were up, I crept down the stairs.  I poked my head around the corner and could see her in profile; she wasn't aware that I was there.  She was still sitting on the chair, and her chin was resting on the table.  Almost touching her lips sat the gummy bear, waiting there in its entirety!  I was gob-smacked!!

Lizzie was staring at it with a longing that was palpable even from where I stood twenty feet away and as I waited for the buzzer to go off, I saw her reach out her pointy little tongue and touch it to the tip of the gummy!!  I just barely managed to restrain my guffaw of laughter!

The buzzer rang and Lizzie sat bolt upright.  She turned around and found me with frenzied eyes and yelled "Now?  Can I eat it?  Do I get another one?"

I immediately gave her the second gummy worm and she sat there for a moment holding them close to her chest, glorying in the prize she deserved.

Just before she stuck that first gummy into her mouth, something caught my eye and I asked if I could look at it for a second.

Then I did laugh out loud:  the gummy that had been sitting on the table had all of the sugar licked clean off!!


  1. Laughing my head off!!!! Oh how I would love to have been a fly on the wall! I'll have to remember this for when Alexander is 5.