The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Delayed Gratification and more

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Image: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the Ghostbusters movie, 1984

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Delayed Gratification and more

In June this year, Jessica Calarco wrote a very interesting article around the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment from the 1960s, which were a number of studies conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel. Mischel was studying correlation between children who displayed delayed gratification and how their subsequent lives turned out to be as they grew up. The studies found that some children could hold off the instant satisfaction in exchange of a delayed but larger gain. Tracking them over several years, it also stated that such children had better life outcomes later in life. These outcomes were gauged using several parameters. Some of these were educational accomplishments, SAT scores, body mass index, among others.

Some subsequent studies tried to disprove this correlation. One of them, mentioned in the article, is a more recent one. Researchers Tyler Watts (NYU) and Greg Duncan and Hoanan Quan (both of UC Irvine) conducted it. Little was found to support the original correlation. The study comprised of a larger sample size (900 as opposed to 600 in the first of the Stanford experiments). One finding was that socio-economic factors also played a role in whether a kid could wait it out or not.

They found kids from affluent families were more inclined and able to wait for the extra marshmallow. Kids from poor families were inclined to take the first marshmallow. They were more inclined to grab something at hand, rather than wait for the uncertain.

A couple of thoughts around this new experiment:

  • Firstly, the phrase ‘did no better’ is debatable. Several groups over time have written off the marshmallow experiment. I think it still has potential. We just need to figure out what data to capture. Doesn’t mean the experiment has no merit
  • I believe the marshmallow experiment, or delayed gratification in particular, is about willpower. And that need not always translate to financial success. People capable of delayed gratification might be more attuned to pursue more challenging pursuits as opposed to easy money
  • Based on examples around us, I suppose both scenarios are possible (rich kids giving in quickly, poor kids waiting it out, and vice versa). However, I think the sharpest growth in achieving potential is more dramatic in poor kids (who perhaps can delay gratification). Consider the small example of America’s leading entrepreneurs who came from immigrant families with humble beginnings

A kid with more grit might be more inclined to choose more worthy and challenging life goals, as opposed to chasing mindless pursuits. Therefore, they might not all be runaway financial successes, but as individuals, there would certainly be that x-factor in them. This factor might be missing in those who might have chosen instant gratification instead.

Kids from an economically poor background surely have far more challenges to achieve something. The few that do, have far more hunger and grit than many affluent kids growing up.

Therefore, while I still think the Marshmallow test is relevant, perhaps proportioning the delay time by economic wellness might give a more clear picture and handle on predicting future outcomes, as opposed to having the same 15 minute incentive for kids across economic strata.

Image: source

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SUV Drivers – Look Out

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India has seen an almost meteoric rise in the number of SUVs and compact-SUVs in the last few years. Perhaps the size fits in well with our gradually growing economy, disposable incomes, and egos. Among things that haven’t grown, is our sense of driving and responsible presence on the road.

India’s roads are getting more dangerous. And the higher seated position makes it tougher for SUV drivers to see, especially around the vehicle. Add to this the narrow, blocked or poorly-lit (and therefore unsafe) footpaths/ sidewalks, and you have more and more pedestrians choosing to walk on roads instead.

This is why it becomes even more important for pedestrians walking with small children, to keep them on your side that is away from the traffic. This also means moving them from one side to the other on dividers, when crossing bi-directional traffic. Or carrying them when crossing roads. It is tough enough for drivers of hatchbacks and sedans, thanks to the lack of lane discipline and distracted pedestrians. But it will be more dangerous if pedestrians bank on just the cautiousness of SUV drivers, given their limited proximity view from their high seats. And slightly more so with women drivers.

Sources said the observations will be given to the civic authorities to help them improve roads.

Source: link

The image above shows how you should never cross the road when accompanying children. You should be between the children and oncoming traffic.

Here’s an older post highlighting the risk [link here]

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Curiosity

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Curious-story

Image: source

If only the curiosity of children was as contagious to adults, as their smiles and laughter. Maybe millions more would have been right-brained thinkers then. And the world might have been a more peaceful place.

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Let’s Go Back to the Future

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Let’s Go Back to the Future

Last night, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi‘s birth anniversary, I came across an article titled ‘Where was Gandhiji born? Only 4 out of 10 gave the correct answer.’ [link]

What was the big deal anyway? While my outlook is not even half as non-violent as the Mahatma’s,  I have utmost respect for him.

But for questions like when was someone born, or where? History? I always seemed to have had a problem with History. Beyond doubt, History has a lot to offer us. After all, we cannot afford to figure out, experiment, and make all the mistakes ourselves. Things that have worked, or that haven’t; how lives have evolved, etc. all help us with decisions of today. History also inspires us. It tells us about something that has probably never been done before. Or, that people have tried but have all failed. It indirectly challenges people like you and me to prove History wrong. By knowing what is impossible, we can strive to make it possible.

History #1

On the flip side, I guess we humans also saw in History, that the problem of global warming did not exist till the late 19th century; and unfortunately, we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to change that too.

While growing up, what we were often taught in the name of History, was little short of nothing. I remember being scared before history tests. Struggling to remember dates and events. That is what was most focused upon. Who was someone’s husband or wife; or third wife or fourth husband of the second son or daughter? More confusing than my own family tree, which I still have a lot of trouble figuring out. Or when was this battle fought? Would you care, if you have trouble remembering your own spouse’s birthday. If not for family and friends, I’d probably have forgotten my birthday a long time ago.

History #2

Instead, History is actually a brilliant opportunity to teach children about life, the evolution of life, and so on. Teach them more about various cultures and religions; so that we come to respect cultures and religions better. To cultivate better understanding in them by asking them what they would have done in a similar situations from history. To encourage ideas and challenge children about things that were considered impossible up until now. 

And all the energy and brain-space we would save by not having to remember the ‘whats’ and ‘whens’ of history, can then be focused to understand the ‘why’ and ‘why not’ instead. Isn’t that what the Mahatma did? Change History?

History #3 - lego-gandhi

Image: Link

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