Can our marshmallow behavior indicate our level of self-control and therefore our morality?
In the late 60s and early 70s, a psychologist named Walter Mischel tested a hypothesis about delayed gratification: he gave a preschooler one marshmallow and told her the following--"I'm going to leave for a few minutes to do something. If you can wait to eat the marshmallow until I come back, you will get a second one. If you eat the marshmallow while I'm gone, you won't get another one."
The children who participated in the experiment had all sorts of responses and tactics to wait out the adult's return. Many children just ate the first marshmallow, though.
Several years later, when these preschoolers grew up, they were interviewed about their life and success. According to Mischel's hypothesis, those preschoolers who delayed gratification (of eating one marshmallow in order to double their mallow satisfaction) would be more successful as adults. And, according to the research, the children who held out for two mallows did indeed have more successful lives.
This test has been used for years to teach the importance of delayed gratification, even as young as 4. From the conclusions of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, it stands to reason that a child who can delay gratification will be more successful than one who can't.
The problem is that the experiment's results were faulty. It turns out that being able to delay gratification is a function of socioeconomic status and trauma history rather than self-control.
Why is this such a big deal to me?
It's because of the people who perform well under pressure to exhibit 'self-control' are elevated while those who "cave" are called gluttonous and immature. Our culture assigns morality to fatness, and therefore people who don't fit into our society weight/size standards are labeled lazy and less worthy.
The original interpretation of the experiment's results demonstrates that what we think we know is often just a part of the story.
Your body is good, even if you aren't able to wait until the adult returns to earn a second marshmallow. My inner child needed to hear that yesterday, and I thought maybe yours did, too.