The first “Marshmallow Test” was a study conducted by Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen at Stanford University in 1970. The purpose of the original study was to understand when the control of delayed gratification, the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants, develops in children. The original experiment took place at the Bing Nursery School located at Stanford University, using children of ages four to six as subjects. The children were led into a room, empty of distractions, where a treat of their choice (Oreo cookie, marshmallow, or pretzel stick) was placed on a table. The children could eat the treat, the researchers said, but if they waited for fifteen minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second treat. Mischel observed that some would “cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray, others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal,” while others would simply eat the marshmallow as soon as the researchers left.
Number of participants – 600 children
Results – In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures. A replication attempt with a more diverse sample population over 10 times larger than the original study failed to support the original study’s conclusions and suggested that economic background rather than willpower explained the results.
Also, the research found that the children who could not delay gratification in these Marshmallow studies were 2x more likely to turn to drug use and 3x more likely to gamble.