Posted by: Bonnie Anderson | September 22, 2011

Marshmallows, Cookies and Delayed Gratification

What is wrong with the following sentence?  “The researchers tracked down 59 adults now in their 40s who had taken part in the original landmark “marshmallow” study to see how their ability to delay gratification, or not, fared with maturity.”  I’ll give you a hint – I looked up the word “landmark” in the Dictionary just on the off-chance that I did not understand the word.  I do understand the word.  It means having great importance or significance.

According to Sunday’s edition of The Orlando Sentinel, Cornell conducted a study of preschoolers in the 60s and 70s.  This involved allowing them to choose between having a marshmallow or cookie right away or waiting for double the treat later.  They broke down the study participants into two groups – low delayers and high delayers.  The follow-up study, believe it or not, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It gets more mind-boggling to me because in the follow-up study the participants were not offered cookies or marshmallows.  They were asked to give reactions to series of emotional pictures, and it seems most of them were happy faces or sad faces.  I’ll give away the results of the study here (according to them) – the people, for the most part, didn’t change in their ability to delay gratification.  Frankly, I don’t know what this proves or why it is important.

If I were part of this study I would want to be offered the cookie.  Depending on if I were dieting or not, I would make my decision.  Then again, it also would depend on if I was having a “good” dieting day.  Then again it might depend on if I liked the kind of cookie and how big is was.  Also, had I recently had lunch or would this cookie ruin my entire appetite?  Was anyone watching me eat the cookie?  That would really be a clincher.

I may develop my own landmark study and put a bunch of ladies in a room together and pass around a plate of cookies.  Then I would count the cookies on the plate and put them in the kitchen out of everyone’s view.  I would watch as people made an excuse to go into the kitchen.   After everyone left for the day, I would count the cookies on the plate and see who was the most like me as I enjoyed eating another one with nobody watching.  I wonder why I’m never invited to participate in any landmark studies?



  1. Ooo! I was part of just such a study when I was a grade schooler. Buncha kids, the promise that if we waited we’d get double the treat later, and then the adults left the room. Mark Godwin promptly took everyone’s treats and wolfed them down (and punched anyone who tried to keep their own).

    I don’t think the study went all that well.

    • That is very interesting. That Mark Godwin! There’s one in every group.

  2. I think, with adults, it would be more effective to offer cash! How much cash you get depends on if you take it now or wait. Seems that woudl be the closest equivalent to a cookie in adult terms.

  3. So you “sneak” your treats! Me, on the other hand, I overeat in social situations – out of nervousness or something. I would definately be taking the cookies right away.

    • Yes, I eat less when others are around and make up for lost time when I’m alone. I’ve been alone too much lately!

  4. Here is my landmark comment for this post – Maximum Awesomeness of Hilarity!!! We’ve got to grab a cup of joe sometime!!! Tweeted!!!

    • Thanks, Tor. And we would love to meet you sometime, too. Next time we go see Bob’s dad up in Fort Washington (probably in January), we’ll see if we can work it out. That would be fun.

  5. Landmarks in Orlando are trashmarks elsewhere???
    The ORIGINAL study is a classic because it was ‘scientifically elegant” and Dr. Mischel used it to continue and expand his psychological research studies.
    Nowadays, 59 subjects involved a 15 minute test would not qualify as anything other than a good start.

    • I love the term scientifically elegant. But, ouch, Roy, on the Orlando comment! Even though I do not enjoy Orlando right now, I’ll have the upper hand in December through February – at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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