Dr. Mischel did a study on his kids’ pre-school classmates to test how children would react to being offered marshmallows. This research had a twist, as you may have guessed. The kids were put in isolation and offered a choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Dr. Mischel monitored the children to see whether they would wait and how long they could last. The study confirmed his hypothesis that children develop a strong sense of self control around four years of age.
Years passed, and one day, Dr. Mischel casually asked how some of their classmates from the original study were doing. Oddly, he noticed a correlation between the progress of the children as tweens and their ability to resist a marshmallow in pre-k years earlier. The ‘marshmallow’ kids were brought together for a non-anecdotal reassessment of their progress to see if the anecdotal information matched reality. The data was unexpected and shocking. The correlation between a preschooler’s willpower and his later progress on SATs and GPAs as a teen were surprisingly statistically significant.
The kids were tested again as adults, and the correlations were even more striking and widespread. Jad and Robert, the corny radiolab hosts, were left puzzling whether this study implied that a person’s fate was hardwired. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it was an excellent podcast. To be fair, I love ALL the Radiolab podcasts, but this one particularly captured my imagination. Good stuff!