Cognitive Flexibility, Working Memory, Future Happiness And The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

People are frugal guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.” – Seneca

In 1972 Walter Mischel led a team of child psychologists from the prestigious Stanford University in the Stanford marshmallow experiment on delayed gratification.

Perhaps the most famous of all child psychology experiments, the Stanford marshmallow experiment made headlines around the world for its ability to read the future of any child foolish enough to live through the mental anguish of the test.

If the child used their executive functions and avoided eating the marshmallow then a beautiful future of professional, personal and financial happiness awaited.

Eat the marshmallow and the child’s life would spiral into a maelstrom of failure, misery and neglect.

48 years later Apocalypse Daddy and Alice sat down to ponder the future and the nature of marshmallows.

And carried out the experiment.

In laboratory conditions.


In the original marshmallow experiment four year old children were given the choice between one marshmallow immediately or the glorious possibility of two marshmallows if they waited for 20 minutes.

But that wasn’t enough for this crack team of child psychologists.

They needed entertainment value.

So Stanford, as Stanford often do, made the experiment more fun, memorable and sadistic.

How did they do this?

The first marshmallow was placed on a plate in front of the child and left there. To tease, torment and force the children to question their sanity.

Eat the single marshmallow now, or wait and get two.

Sounds simple.

Entertainment and delayed gratification.

I bought some marshmallows.

All I needed was a willing volunteer to eat (what was left of) them.

“Daddy,” Alice said dragging an electric cable and the lamp it was attached to into the living room, “I can eat marshmallows. I’m four. I’m big. Can I eat marshmallows?”

“You can eat one or two. Which would you prefer?”

It was a rhetorical question.

“Two,” she said handing me the lamp. “Two is more than one. Can you fix this lamp? It broke.”

“I didn’t know lamps could break themselves?”

“Nevermind the lamp, talk to me about marshmallows.”

“We’re going to do a very famous experiment on executive function and marshmallows.”

“What’s eclectic fruntion?” She asked, momentarily intrigued by the beautiful thought of sugar, “And where are the marshmallows Daddy?”

“What is executive function? Well, I’m not a psychologist as you know.”

“No, you’re my Daddy and Mommy is my Mommy and, what’s a sicholologist?”

“It’s a very open question. For the moment let’s say a psychologist is a person who studies behaviours.”

“Like naughty boys and good girls?”

“That would fall into the job description, yes.”

“Can we eat marshmallows now?”

“You have to wait.”

“I like experiments. Has the experiment begun?”

“Not yet.”

“Then why can’t I have a marshmallow?”




Published by The Apocalypse Daddy

I am the 'soon-to-be' best selling author of Apocalypse Daddy. I write stories about raising kids, mindset, philosophy & contemporary culture. The stories are based on ancient wisdom, my parenting principles, and the milestones of life.

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