Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Marshmallow Test

Zuzu participated in another study for a local university's graduate students' psychology lab. They are doing a version of the marshmallow test, which is where a child is given a marshmallow and told that if they wait and don't eat it until the test administrator returns that they will get two marshmallows. The child is then observed to see whether they eat the marshmallow or trust the administrator and wait for his/her return.

Variations on this study have been done to see whether the willingness and/or length of time a child waits depends on whether the test administrator is someone the child has spent a bit of time with before the test or not, or whether they observe the test administrator doing something dishonest before leaving the room (like tearing up a paper and then lying about it).

The study we are participating in is considering race and racial difference as a potential factor in how long a child would wait, so Zuzu was given the marshmallow and promised a second one by an African American woman.

Zuzu performed exactly as I would have predicted.

Two minutes and fifty-three seconds into the experiment she had not eaten the first marshmallow, but she had followed the test administrator out of the testing room, opened the sliding door, and peered into the waiting room to ask when she was going to come back with another marshmallow.

(I should also add that the child isn't really left alone in the room--there is a grad student in there observing, but she is hidden from the child's view.)

The graduate students seemed a bit surprised by her appearance in the doorway--perhaps most kids just sit and wait (or sit and snack) instead of wandering by themselves through two sets of doors and one dark room back out to the waiting room?

I was trying to imagine what I would have done as a four-year-old. I was pretty impressed by authority and wanted to please my teachers, so I probably would have tried really hard to sit and wait for her to return (they try to get the child to wait 15 minutes, which is an eternity when you're four).

But I had to laugh because OF COURSE Zuzu wanted to get both marshmallows, so she certainly wasn't going to eat the first one before the teacher came back, but OF COURSE she wasn't just going to sit there by herself and wait it out when she could be proactive about the situation and demand the marshmallow NOW.

When her preschool teacher asked me how it went, I told her what happened and she was delighted. "That's leadership!" she said. Which is a lovely way to look at an impatient and demanding four-year-old, and is precisely why she teaches preschoolers and I do not.

But seriously, as frustrating as it can be to raise a four-year-old proactive leader who isn't afraid to ask for what she wants exactly when she wants it, I hope that is exactly who Zuzu continues to be in another decade and for the rest of her life. Give 'em hell, honey. You totally deserve more than one marshmallow on a reasonable timeline.


  1. OF COURSE she did. That's an awesome story.

  2. Yea for Zuzu! Quite certain that both of mine would have eaten the marshmallow. As a kid, I would save some of my Halloween candy all the way until Christmas, when I received more candy in my stocking. Still waiting for that skill to pay off in life.

  3. Replies
    1. how do I insert the clapping emoticon here? ;)

  4. I was going to say the same thing as Caroline!
    She was warned, she was given an explanation, nevertheless, she persisted.
    Zuzu is going to be one of the great female leaders in our world!

  5. Go Zuzu!! These comments are perfect! Way to persist! You have to keep on top of the snack committee, they may eat the ball, rather than drop it, lol.

  6. Yes! That's leadership! Be a politician, Zuzu! God knows we need more females to represent and surely to keep people honest.

  7. <3 <3 <3
    I love this nugget and she looks like she is growing up so much in this photo!

  8. Yay ZuZu! What a problem solver :)