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Researchers revisit history's most adorable psychological experiment, find something new

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was designed to assess delayed gratification in children, and it is the single most adorable psychological test ever created.

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The premise of the marshmallow task is simple. Offer a kid a marshmallow. This marshmallow is theirs to eat, but if they can wait for you to leave the room and grab a second marshmallow, then they can eat both of the marshmallows when you return.

In the video up top, researchers at the University of Rochester revisit the marshmallow task, but they've thrown in an interesting twist: how long will children delay gratification after they've been primed to view the adult conducting the experiment as "reliable" or "unreliable"? Perhaps not surprisingly, the children assigned to the "reliable" condition tended to exhibit greater self-control than those in the "unreliable" condition, delaying gratification an average of four times longer. This, note the researchers in the latest issue of Cognition, suggests that a child's performance on the marshmallow task is moderated by rational decision-making. "Thus," write the researchers, "wait-times on sustained delay-of-gratification tasks (e.g., the marshmallow task) may not only reflect differences in self-control abilities, but also beliefs about the stability of the world."

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Smart kids.

Read the full study (no subscription required) in Cognition.

[Spotted on It's Okay to be Smart]

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DISCUSSION

Due to a caffeine induced haze, I accidentally misread the first line as "Stanford Marshmallow Prison Experiment". I suddenly conjured up a scene where adorable kiddie guards are attempting to brutally breakup a prison marshmallow black market run by even more adorable kiddie prisoners. Philip Zimbardo runs around kissing all the booboo's better.