In this week’s spotlight I would like to discuss the capacity for deferred gratification. There’s a genuinely tutorial study known as the marshmallow test. In this study young children were sat down in a room with a large fresh marshmallow. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted, but if they waited until the researcher returned to the room, they could have two—the researcher would bring them a second marshmallow. They were also told that if they decided to eat the marshmallow before the researcher returned, to ring a bell and the researcher would immediately return, but they would not get a second marshmallow. As you might guess, many of the children ate the marshmallow right away. Some, however, may have touched it, or smelled it, or even tasted their fingers after touching it, but held out and waited fifteen minutes for the researcher to return.
A follow-up study was conducted years later. What did researchers find? Children who ate the marshmallow right away had many more emotional problems then those who did not. Children who waited had SAT scores 200 points higher than those who were unwilling to defer their gratification.
We live at a time when the desire for instant gratification is gaining strength and deferred gratification may be something left only to the classroom. Or is it? Colleges used to require deferring some forms of personal pleasure in favor of a long term goal, but more and more colleges today use promotional brochures to attract students by emphasizing fun—the social events, parties, food, drink and more. So today even college is less of a deferred gratification practice than say that of forty or fifty years ago.
We also live at a time when everything is basically disposable. We throw away things today that would never have been thrown away fifty years ago. Indeed, we buy disposable cameras, lighters, contact lenses, camcorders, plastic kitchen utensils, all sorts of plastic containers, and so forth with the conscious knowledge that we will discard the item–and very soon. Worse, most of these items have alternative uses with a little creativity, but the point is this, we are not willing to defer our gratification even when it may save us money, so we discard and buy another.
The mantra in politics for the past eight plus years has been “change.” And change is something we all say we want and we want it now! But the kind of change we are really seeking may take years to accomplish and not many are willing to think in this way. My question: what are we giving up by choosing our marshmallow now?
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions