In a recent article, KQED/MindShift staff writer Katrina Schwartz investigates self-control strategies in children, with a focus on the research of psychology professor Walter Mischel. When Mischel was a professor at Stanford University in the late 60s/early 70s, he led a team or researchers who who studied delayed gratification in what became known as “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.”
In the study, a child was offered a marshmallow (or sometimes a cookie or pretzel) and presented with a choice. He or she could 1) enjoy the marshmallow immediately, or 2) withhold from eating the marshmallow for a certain amount of time, and be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. The video below shows a recent version of the marshmallow experiment:
In research that followed the original testing, children who were able to hold out for the better reward tended to have better ability to deal with stress, higher SAT scores, and other positive traits.
In the article, Schwartz points out that many of the tactics the children use in the test — such as self-distraction, self-distancing, and identifying one’s ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ systems — are strategies the could be transferred to the classroom. She notes, “if educators can find productive ways to use his research in classrooms, they will also improve student motivation, which can’t be detached from the idea of student efficacy in meeting goals.”
Read Schwartz’s entire feature on KQED’s website.