When I wrote about the marshmallow test several years ago, it seemed so simple:
A child was given a marshmallow and told he could either ring a bell to summon the researcher and get to eat the marshmallow right away or wait a few minutes until the researcher returned, at which time the child would be given two marshmallows. It’s a simple test of self control, but only about a third of kids that age will wait for the second marshmallow. What’s more interesting, though, is that success on that test correlates pretty well with success later in life. The children who can’t wait grow up to have lower S.A.T. scores, higher body mass indexes, problems with drugs and trouble paying attention.
The initial finding hasn’t been overturned, but a new study in the journal Cognition is adding a layer of complexity to the test with the finding that whether the child perceives the researcher as trustworthy matters.