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Marshmallows & Trust

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I’ve written a lot about self-control and the famous Marshmallow Experiment, and how I use it in the classroom.

An intriguing study was recently published that brings an additional perspective to the experiment. In this new research, researchers first divided the children into two groups to perform an art-related task prior to marshmallow experiment. Both groups were told that the researcher would return with better supplies, but in one group the researchers did not deliver on their promise. Afterwards, all the children took the marshmallow test and the ones that had been in the group where the researchers had followed-through waited far longer than the other children.

In other words, children who had a previous history of adults delivering on their promises performed better in the marshmallow test. Researchers suggest, then, that it might not be only an issue of self-control. Being in a stable — or unstable — environment could also influence the outcome.

I don’t necessarily think this new experiment affects how I use the Marshmallow Experiment in my classroom (though I’m open to hearing ways that it should). But it does seem to me to re-emphasize the importance of maintaining a relationship of trust in the classroom. It doesn’t negate the value of self-control. But, as an article in the Smithsonian says:

parents [and teachers] of kids who appear to lack self control might want to look more closely at why they would eat the marshmallow–is it because they can’t wait or because they can’t trust that the next marshmallow will appear?

Here are some articles on the new study:

The Marshmallow Study revisited

The marshmallow test, revisited is from The Washington Post.

The Marshmallow Test Gets More Complicated is from The Smithsonian.

Marshmallow-ology: Why Wait, When the Better Treat Might Never Arrive? is from TIME.

To Predict Success in Children, Look Beyond Willpower
is from Scientific American.

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control and to The Best Posts About Trust & Education.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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  1. Pingback: Daily Links (weekly) « Musings in a Post-Postmodern Milieu

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