Is Your Kid Smart? Test With a Marshmallow

Last year, we showed you a video of kids trying to pass the Marshmallow Test. Researchers put a preschooler alone in an otherwise empty room with a marshmallow. They are told if they can wait until a grown-up comes back, they can have two marshmallows, then they are left alone and we watch them. Some use clever tricks (like hiding it) to pull it off. Others can't take it and chow down.

The boldest conclusions: Kids who wait the full 15 minutes have SAT scores that are on average 215 points higher than kids who ate it in the first 30 seconds. How handy. You can give it to your child now to see if you should let your Harvard dreams die.


The experiment by Dr. Walter Mischel, originally done in the 1960s, was hyped by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker and David Shenk in his book The Genius in All of Us, and loads of other places.

But Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman say it's bogus. Or at least overrated.

First, they say, "It’s the easiest test in the world to fool. Parents can just promise their kid a pony if they don’t eat any marshmallows or cookies during the evaluation session."

Also, 550 kids took part in some form of the experiment, but Mischel only tracked scores for 94.

Finally, "It was actually only 35 kids who did the classic test -- 17 boys and 18 girls. How long they waited was a lot worse predictor for the boys than the girls. And while about a third waited the full 15 minutes, it was only a handful of kids who ate the marshmallow in less than 30 seconds."

One thing is not in question: Video of the exam is damn adorable. (Note to scientists -- the public is likely to embrace your work more if it results in cute viral video. More studies that involve clumsy kittens and affectionate otters, please!)

As a child, I would have eaten it, sneaked past the researcher to the bag, then had four or five more, then grabbed an extra one to claim it was the original, and sneaked back in. And I did fine on the SATs.

What do you think of the marshmallow test?


Image via KateTerHaar/Flickr

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