A recent New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer highlighted a classic experiment in child psychology, conducted at Stanford in the 1960’s. In the “marshmallow” experiment, Professor Walter Mischel and his team offered children yummy marshmallows– with conditions. The article describes a typical interaction in which the
“researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room.”
Ok, testing children’s willpower. But the stakes are seemingly so high:
“Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.”
I am a new parent. What am I to make of these experiments? I want my child to possess the focus and self control necessary to resist the marshmallow!
Mind in the Making, a new book by Families and Work Institute president Ellen Galinsky, offers a new approach to understanding how our children learn, focusing on the seven essential skills that keep children engaged in lifelong learning– including focus and self control. The book will be published by HarperStudio in the spring of 2010. In early 2010, there will be a national launch of the Mind in the Making initiative, with television shows, an interactive Web site and more. Here is a preview of two relevant experiments:
Skill – Critical Thinking
Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn, and Paul Bloom of Yale University have found that infants as young as six months of age can tell the difference between who is helpful and who is not. Children get so much information from others and they learn which information to trust, and which not to trust.
Skill – Taking on Challenges
Joseph Campos of UC Berkeley’s “Visual Cliff” experiment shows that young children look for cues and clues from others to determine how to proceed in uncertain circumstances.
The Mind in the Making team has also created Learning Modules for Early Childhood Teachers and are implementing them in eight states. We will be creating Modules for Families in the coming months.
We would love to keep you updated as our project nears its launch. Parents and educators are an essential part of Mind in the Making, and we want to hear from you! Please email us at MITM@familiesandwork.org and we will stay in touch.