Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Marshmallow Test

Below is a cute video of a marshmallow test. Kids are offered a marshmallow and told if they wait to eat it they'll get a second one. It is an interesting examination of kids intertemporal decision making.

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

While the video is cute, it turns out that this experiment can reveal a great deal about who these kids become later in life. The original version was conducted in the 1960s and the researchers have continued follow the subjects over time and found some interesting stuff:

But occasionally Mischel would ask his three daughters, all of whom attended the Bing, about their friends from nursery school. “It was really just idle dinnertime conversation,” he says. “I’d ask them, ‘How’s Jane? How’s Eric? How are they doing in school?’ ” Mischel began to notice a link between the children’s academic performance as teen-agers and their ability to wait for the second marshmallow. He asked his daughters to assess their friends academically on a scale of zero to five. Comparing these ratings with the original data set, he saw a correlation. “That’s when I realized I had to do this seriously,” he says. Starting in 1981, Mischel sent out a questionnaire to all the reachable parents, teachers, and academic advisers of the six hundred and fifty-three subjects who had participated in the marshmallow task, who were by then in high school. He asked about every trait he could think of, from their capacity to plan and think ahead to their ability to “cope well with problems” and get along with their peers. He also requested their S.A.T. scores.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

I think its interesting that this experiment was a window of what these kids might turn out like later in life, but I don't understand exactly how it works. What makes the kids who wait, wait? Or the kids who don't, eat? Is it predetermined by something or is it based on the environment they grow up in and their up-brining?
I also think that it is incredibly interesting that the ability to delay gratification turned out to be so incredibly important in determining conventional measures of success. And while I am also interested in what exactly determines the ability to delay, I am most curious about whether it would be possible to get a reliable estimate of the percentage of people who are high-delayers vs. low-delayers; I think that having this information might allow for the creation of much more accurate models of human behavior and choices on a large scale than those which we currently have.
I do not disagree that patience probably has a positive correlation with various sorts of intelligence. But i would like to see his results, mainly the residual and the r-squared value that he received. Additionally, it would be interesting to continue the study to see their performance latter life. Furthermore i am interested in the environmental aspect of the individual participants.
PS. The kids were really cute!
I read an article in the New York Times, about research being conducted to examine children's self-regulation skills and if they can be altered. The article mentioned that some studies have found children's self-regulating skills to be a more effective predictor of children's academic success than IQ, which is similar to the Marshmallow Test in this article.
It's interesting to read about these studies and how researchers are developing methods that help predict how the children will turn out. In the New York Times article, the issue that "there is a popular belief that executive-function skills are fixed early on, a function of genes and parenting" is brought up. I wonder how large a part of the skills stem from genes and how influential parenting is.
I know this is late, but I thought I'd chime in cos I find this particularly relevant to micro now.
So, this video seems to imply that those who delay (who, it would seem, do not greatly discount their future selves) have better scores, behavior, etc. Yet sometimes, taking the money (or in this case, marshmallows) now is more rational.
I have a question, which will probably be answered by more classes in micro: at what point does it become more rational to take the current than to wait? I know that very much depends on parameters given...and what some micro problems are about.
But then again, maybe there's a supersecret insult to certain wings of economists in the conclusion (which also lends itself to hilarious images of brokers breaking out into fistfights). hahahahaha.
How does that happen? What about kids who are able to wait make them better at school and have higher SAT scores? If kids wait does that mean that they are not as indulgent, and so are able to stay more focused on school? This is a very interesting study.
Would have been more attention-grabbing if they were told that they would drown a kitten in the next room if they ate the marshmallow.
And what if a kid does not like marshmallow?
I can't believe that eating a marshmellow relates to SAT's. What else does it realte to and how long into the kid's life is it relevant?

Oh and Bakheet that is bad dude...haha. Would make it interesting though.
The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.

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