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Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Gratification Delay and Later Outcomes

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We replicated and extended Shoda, Mischel, and Peake’s (1990) famous “marshmallow” study, which showed strong bivariate correlations between a child’s ability to delay gratification just before entering school and both adolescent achievement and socioemotional behaviors. Concentrating on children whose mothers had not completed college, we found that an additional minute waited at age 4 predicted a gain of approximately 1/10th of a SD in age-15 achievement. But this bivariate correlation was only half the size of those reported in the original studies, and was reduced by two-thirds in the presence of controls for family background, early cognitive ability, and the home environment. Most of the variation in adolescent achievement came from being able to wait at least 20 seconds. Associations between delay time and age-15 measures of behavioral outcomes were much smaller and rarely statistically significant.
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... In experiments, the concept of validity addresses the proper definition and description of dependent and independent variables and the ruling out of confounding variables that might entail systematic error. The concept of validity was relevant, for example, in the discussion about the famous Marshmallow Experiment (e.g., McCrory Calarco, 2018;Watts at al., 2018). Critics questioned whether the methodological design-in which a child was allowed to choose between eating one marshmallow immediately or having two later-was an adequate operationalization of the constructs of "delayed gratification" and "self-control." ...
... The more recent case of the conceptual replication of the Marshmallow Experiment points to a comparable direction because it touched questions of validity, systematic errors and confounding variables. In the new marshmallow study, the original effect was more heterogenous and much smaller after the researchers added two different groups of statistical controls, including variables of cognitive ability, socioeconomic status, family background, and home environment (Watts at al., 2018). Why the results in the two studies diverged from each other is part of an ongoing debate and illustrates, above all, a general epistemic uncertainty of psychological experiments. ...
... Why the results in the two studies diverged from each other is part of an ongoing debate and illustrates, above all, a general epistemic uncertainty of psychological experiments. One interpretation that the authors of the replication study suggested is that the Marshmallow Test does not (or only partly) measure the construct of self-control but that it also measures something else (Watts et al., 2018). Another interpretation is that the Marshmallow Test is a mere proxy for wealth (McCrory Calarco, 2018). ...
Article
The replication crisis led to the rise of metascience as a possible solution. In this article, we examine central metascientific premises and argue that attempts to solve the replication crisis in psychology will benefit from a tighter integration of approaches from the psychological humanities. The first part of our article identifies central epistemic merits that metascientific endeavors can contribute to psychology. However, we argue secondly against the widespread claim that metascience is the only way to deal with the replication crisis in psychology and point to major epistemic problems: the one-sided notion of a singular scientific method, the homogenizing view of psychology, and the exclusion of practices of theorizing. As a possible compensation for such shortcomings, we introduce, third, the reflective and pluralistic approach of psychological humanities. In so doing, we show how psychological humanities can serve as an important complement to the objective of improving psychological research. Psychological humanities contribute to a more precise determination of validity, to ethical considerations, and a better understanding of psychology’s objects in regard to replication. Accordingly, we argue for the integration of psychological humanities into both metascience and psychology to provide a better basis for addressing epistemic and ethical questions.
... Delay of gratification (DoG) refers to an individual's ability to forego an immediate reward in favor of a later, larger reward. While DoG can be applied to various rewards, many behavioral paradigms use food stimuli to measure this construct in preschool-aged children (1)(2)(3). This is referred to in the literature as food-related, or appetite, self-regulation (2). ...
... Ecological systems models stress the importance of interactions between biological and environmental factors in explaining development (22). To this end, a large body of literature demonstrates the effect that the family environment has on EC and EF development [e.g., (23)(24)(25)(26)], as well as on food DoG [e.g., (3,27)]. Indeed, this literature suggests that the resources and stressors in the child's environment have a meaningful effect on DoG development. ...
... In the literature on environmental influences on the development of food DoG, several candidate measures emerge. First, socioeconomic status (SES) is positively associated with better performance on DoG tasks [e.g., (3,28)] and other measures of food-related self-regulation [e.g., (29)]. As such, both family income and maternal education-common measures of SES-should positively correlate with delay time. ...
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Much of the work on the development of appetite self-regulation in early childhood employs tasks assessing Delay of Gratification (DoG). While this skill is thought to rely on “cool” cognitive processes like effortful control, executive functioning, and self-regulation, demonstration of how laboratory measures of food DoG relate to common assessments of those cognitive processes in community samples of children is needed. This study presents secondary data investigating the associations between two laboratory tasks of food DoG, the Snack Delay and Tongue Tasks, and an array of laboratory and parent-report cognitive measures in a sample of 88 children ages 3-6 ( M age = 4.05, SD = 0.76), as well as how four measures of the child's environment were associated with food DoG. Results indicated that both measures of food DoG were positively correlated with performance on the cognitive tasks, with stronger associations observed for the Tongue Task. Family income was positively associated with food DoG as measured by the Tongue Task, and child negative life events in the past year were negatively correlated with food DoG as measured by the Snack Delay Task. These findings present the pattern of associations between cognitive tasks and food DoG, the development of which may be meaningfully affected by specific aspects of family environment.
... However, despite its brevity, this delay task has been used extensively in developmental research to predict a multitude of outcomes, such as reward-seeking behaviors, academic achievement, and socioemotional capacity (Hernandez et al., 2018;Supplee et al., 2011;Watts et al., 2018). There were no data collected on hunger/satiety or the time of the last meal; therefore, we cannot determine whether failure to delay the full task time was driven by individual differences in hunger. ...
Article
Children continually encounter situations where they must regulate impulsive responses to achieve a goal, requiring both self‐control (SC) and delay of gratification. We examined concurrent behavioral SC strategies (fidgeting, vocalizations, anticipation) and physiological regulation (heart rate [HR], respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]) in 126 children (M (SD) = 5.4 (0.29) years) during a standard delay of gratification task. Latent variable models derived latent SC classes and examined the moderating role of HR/RSA on SC and delay ability. Three classes of SC were identified: passive: low fidgeting and vocalizations, moderate anticipation; active: moderate fidgeting, low vocalizations, and high anticipation; and disruptive: moderate fidgeting, high vocalizations, and high anticipation. Children in the active class had the lowest odds of delaying full task time, compared to children in the passive (OR = 0.67, z = −5.25, p < .001) and disruptive classes (OR = 0.76, z = −2.03, p = .04). RSA changes during the task moderated the relationship between SC class and delay ability for children in the active class (aOR = 0.92, z = −3.1, p < .01). Within the group who struggled to delay gratification (active class), a subset exhibiting appropriate autonomic regulation was able to delay. The findings suggest probing congruency of observed behavioral and unobserved physiological regulation.
... As we have outlined above, a large body of research shows that the tendency to routinely apply such effortful control over one's own impulses is conducive to a plethora of positive outcomes (Shenhav et al., 2017;Tangney et al., 2004). Indeed, children who resisted their temptations for longer in the marshmallow studies went on to have greater success later in their life (Mischel et al., 1989; but see also Watts et al., 2018). Thus, in addition to its intrinsic link with effort, self-control is also tightly coupled with impulse control (Gillebaart, 2018), and some conceptualizations have even equated self-control and impulse control (Ainslie, 1975). ...
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Self-control is a highly adaptive human capacity and research on self-control is booming. To further facilitate self-control research, especially in conditions where time-constraints might render the use of multi-item measures of self-control problematic, a validated time-efficient single item measure would be an asset. However, such a measure has not yet been developed and tested. Here, we address this gap by reporting the psychometric properties of a single item measure of self-control and by assessing its localization within a larger theorized psychometric network consisting of self-control, boredom and if-then planning. In a high-powered (N = 1553) study with paid online workers from the US (gender: 47.3% female, 51.7% male, 1% other; age: 40.36 ± 12.65 years), we found evidence for the convergent validity (Brief Self-Control Scale), divergent validity (Short Boredom Proneness Scale and If-Then Planning Scale), and criterion validity (objective and subjective socio-economic status) of the single item measure of self-control (“How much self-control do you have?”). Network psychometrics further revealed that the single item was part of the self-control subnetwork and clearly distinguishable from boredom and if-then planning, which together with self-control form a larger psychometric network of psychological dispositions that are relevant for orienting goal directed behavior. Thus, the present findings indicate that self-control can be adequately captured with the single item measure presented here, thereby extending the methodological toolbox of self-control researchers by a highly-time efficient measure.
... Also, the present sample had discounting rates similar to active illicit drug users (e.g., Petry, Bickel, & Arnett, 1998) and rural substance users living with HIV/AIDS (Tucker, Blum, Xie, Roth, & Simpson, 2012). Given the resource scarcity and environmental instability these young women face, focusing on meeting immediate needs at the expense of longer term planning is understandable (Oshri et al., 2019;Sheehy-Skeffington, 2020;Watts et al., 2018). Thus, there may have been a ceiling effect and insufficient variability in discounting rates to find significant associations, at least with respect to substance involvement though the predicted association was found for sexual risk-taking. ...
Article
Aims: Emerging adulthood is marked by elevated risk-taking, and young people living in disadvantaged urban areas experience disproportionately more negative outcomes. Using a sample of young African American women living in such communities, this cross-sectional observational study investigated the hypothesis that greater substance use and sexual risk-taking would be associated with present-dominated time perspectives and higher delay discounting. Methodology: Young women (N = 223, M age = 20.4 years) from disadvantaged urban areas were recruited using Respondent Driven Sampling, a peer-driven recruitment method. Structured field interviews assessed substance use, sexual practices, and risk/protective factors, including time perspectives (Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory [ZTPI]) and behavioral impulsivity (delay discounting task). Results: Regression models showed that present hedonism time perspectives were related to sexual risk-taking and substance involvement, whereas discounting was associated only with sexual risk-taking (ps < .05). Future time perspectives were not associated with either risk behavior. Conclusions: Risk behaviors among young African American women living in disadvantaged urban areas appear to be related to hedonistic rewards available in the present without considering future outcomes. Future research should investigate experimentally if lengthening time perspectives and enriching views of possible futures may aid risk reduction in this population.
... • Marshmallow study (Mischel et al., 1972) • Part of psychology's replication crisis (Watts et al., 2018) • Most agree that being able to delay gratification is important for academic success • 'Character building' in schools -interventions that try to teach students to delay gratification 13 Delay of gratification ...
Presentation
Many educational analyses, and subsequent calls for reform, focus on curriculum and pedagogy – what material is taught and how it is taught. Though curriculum and pedagogy undoubtedly are important, we should not forget that non-cognitive or motivational factors play significant roles in students’ behaviour and achievement. These factors include students’ beliefs about themselves as learners, valuing of school, aspirations, estimation of academic abilities, academic and social achievement goals, willingness to delay gratification so as to reach long-term goals, and willingness to persist when work gets hard. How are these beliefs about the self and attitudes towards schools developed? One’s cultural context obviously plays a part. For many years cross-cultural psychology has demonstrated how cultural context shapes attitudes and behaviours. In this presentation we consider cultural context not across countries but within countries - by examining differences in motivational factors across social class. Examination of social class largely has been the preserve of sociologists but increasingly psychologists are considering how the contexts in which we grow shape our attitudes and motivations. This is an area of particular interest because of robust evidence that academic achievement varies significantly by socio-economic status (SES). In an age where schools in many western countries are increasingly differentiated by SES, low relative achievement in schools in low SES areas is troubling. We use the term social class rather than the widely used term of SES. SES is fairly easily quantified using measures such as parents’ educational level or residential postcodes. However, what is missing from SES are social psychological aspects of class such as values, beliefs, and attitudes, the focus of the presentation. While we acknowledge that that the term social class can be provocative and unsettling to some, there is much to gain from a deeper understanding of the ways in which students from different social classes make sense of and negotiate their worlds.
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Resisting immediate temptations in favor of larger later rewards predicts academic success, socioemotional competence, and health. These links with delaying gratification appear from early childhood and have been explained by cognitive and social factors that help override tendencies toward immediate gratification. However, some tendencies may actually promote delaying gratification. We assessed children’s delaying gratification for different rewards across two cultures that differ in customs around waiting. Consistent with our preregistered prediction, results showed that children in Japan ( n = 80) delayed gratification longer for food than for gifts, whereas children in the United States ( n = 58) delayed longer for gifts than for food. This interaction may reflect cultural differences: Waiting to eat is emphasized more in Japan than in the United States, whereas waiting to open gifts is emphasized more in the United States than in Japan. These findings suggest that culturally specific habits support delaying gratification, providing a new way to understand why individuals delay gratification and why this behavior predicts life success.
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Artificial Intelligence is making rapid and remarkable progress in the development of more sophisticated and powerful systems. However, the acknowledgement of several problems with modern machine learning approaches has prompted a shift in AI benchmarking away from task-oriented testing (such as Chess and Go) towards ability-oriented testing, in which AI systems are tested on their capacity to solve certain kinds of novel problems. The Animal-AI Environment is one such benchmark which aims to apply the ability-oriented testing used in comparative psychology to AI systems. Here, we present the first direct human-AI comparison in the Animal-AI Environment, using children aged 6–10 (n = 52). We found that children of all ages were significantly better than a sample of 30 AIs across most of the tests we examined, as well as performing significantly better than the two top-scoring AIs, “ironbar” and “Trrrrr,” from the Animal-AI Olympics Competition 2019. While children and AIs performed similarly on basic navigational tasks, AIs performed significantly worse in more complex cognitive tests, including detour tasks, spatial elimination tasks, and object permanence tasks, indicating that AIs lack several cognitive abilities that children aged 6–10 possess. Both children and AIs performed poorly on tool-use tasks, suggesting that these tests are challenging for both biological and non-biological machines.
Thesis
The aim of the present study is to answer the traditional question in ethics, whether there exist universal and objective ethical values, and if so, how can they be harmonized with each one’s particular and specific situations, from the Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian view, and to find the answer’s educational implications. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle shows that human beings’ characteristic function (ergon) to fulfil their ends (telos) is the rational capacity including phronēsis, and based on the facts about human nature, he demonstrates that the good life of human being consists of the activities of soul in accordance with the excellences or virtues. He not only secures the objective criteria of moral truth by appealing substantial facts about human nature, but also fully reflects each one’s particular and specific reality by stressing the virtue of phronēsis. This ‘balance’ made his ideas attractive in recent discussions of Epistemology, Ethics, and educational practices as a remedy of other theories. Since many existing educational practices addressing the concept of virtues have been based on superficial, or wrong interpretations of Aristotelian ideas, it is necessary to investigate what is the true Aristotelian character education by examining some misunderstandings, and, if some critics are valid, to deliberate how can it be appropriately reconstructed. Hence this study examined general criticism on educational practices with the concept of virtues and Neo-Aristotelians’ responses to them as both theoretically and practically. Through the series of discussions, it was able to clarify which Aristotelian ideas were accepted or revised by Neo-Aristotelians, thus to confirm the structure of Neo-Aristotelian character education. 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In this respect, the facts about human nature that we need to refer to are not something just given to us as unchangeable ones, but something to be found within the continuous dialogues about human goodness that always needs to be the object of reflections. Therefore, of importance is not to find the fixed shared ‘conclusion’, but to have continuous shared ‘process’ and head toward the stronger objectivity. Dialogues where we consider and trust each other as an accountable agent can have the most important role for this balance between the universals and specificities. In the end, this study discussed how the dialogues looking for ‘our’ shared criteria can be realized from the educational perspective. The significance of Aristotelian dialogue was reviewed through his writings about friendship (philia), and it was suggested that sustained dialogues between citizens should be the way where we can find ‘our’ goodness and practice to reflect ‘my’ and ‘your’ interests and desires. To realize this ideal, the education for dialogues should frame the problem situations for the common aim, choose issues which does not lose track of concrete contexts and ‘oneself’, and have interests and understanding toward the interlocutor as a collaborator but not as an opponent. On the basis of these discussions, this study has drawn the moral educational implications of Neo-Aristotelian character education for the aspect of educational goal, educational content, teaching-learning method, and educational environment. It is noticeable that this study has comprehensively explored Aristotle’s meta-ethical presuppositions which has not been fully studied so far especially within Korean scholars. Its conclusion emphasizing sustained and collaborative dialogues which needs trust and belief can be disappointing to someone who is looking for the certainty of objective moral truths. However, whereas Immanuel Kant postulated the existence of God, the one to believe in the Neo-Aristotelian sense is the human being, who is lively drawing breath right in front of us. Since moral education and ethics are eventually about considering how to relate to people in our lives, I hope this conclusion not just to remain as written letters, but to have vivid implications to our lives by letting us reflect our own way to treat others, and making the actual changes possible.
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Holding out for a delayed reward in the face of temptation is notoriously difficult, and the ability to do so in childhood predicts diverse indices of life success. Prominent explanations focus on the importance of cognitive control. However, delaying gratification may also require trust in people delivering future rewards as promised. Only limited experimental work has tested this idea, and such studies with children were focused on general reward expectations, so evidence was ambiguous as to whether social trust played a role. The present study provides the first targeted test of a role for social trust in children's willingness to delay gratification. Children observed an adult behave in either a trustworthy or untrustworthy manner toward another adult, then were tested in the classic delay of gratification task by that adult. Children were less likely to wait the full delay period, and waited less time overall, for a reward promised by an untrustworthy adult, relative to children tested by a trustworthy adult. These findings demonstrate that manipulations of social trust influence delaying gratification, and highlight intriguing alternative reasons to test for individual differences in delaying gratification and associated life outcomes.
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We examined the effect of the distinct positive emotions pride and joy on children's self-regulation, focusing on their ability to delay gratification (i.e., resist a temptation in favor of a long-term goal). We hypothesized that because pride corresponds to the attainment of long-term goals and joy corresponds to the attainment of immediate desires, the experience of pride may signal sufficient progress toward a long-term goal, resulting in less delay of gratification than the experience of joy. To test this hypothesis, we induced an experience of pride or joy in 8-year-old children. At this age, the ability to self-regulate-and to experience pride and joy distinctively-is relatively mature. We then measured performance in a delay discounting task. We found that, compared with the joy condition and a control condition, children who experienced pride performed worse on the delay discounting task (p=.045), indicating poorer self-regulation. This result suggests that emotions may function as cues for sufficient goal pursuit, thereby influencing self-regulation from a very young age. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Chapter
This chapter provides an overview of research on choice preferences for delayed, larger versus immediate, smaller gratifications. In spite of the widespread recognition of the important role of delay of gratification in human affairs, previous experimental research on the topic has been limited. At the empirical level, extensive experimental work has been done on delay of reward in animals. Surprisingly, although voluntary delay behavior has been assumed to be a critical component of such concepts as “ego strength,” “impulse control,” and “internalization,” prior to the present research program relatively little systematic attention had been devoted to it in empirical work on human social behavior. The chapter presents, in greater detail, selected studies that focus on the role of cognitive processes during self-imposed delay. Many theorists have paid tribute abstractly to the importance of cognition for the phenomena of personality in general and for self-regulatory processes in particular. These tributes have been accompanied by some correlational research that explores, for example, the links between intelligence, self-control, cognitive styles, and other dispositional. The chapter offers a further theoretical analysis of the determinants of delay behavior.
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Although previous research has established the association between early-grade mathematics knowledge and later mathematics achievement, few studies have measured mathematical skills prior to school entry, and few have investigated the predictive power of early gains in mathematics ability. The current paper relates mathematical skills measured at 54 months to adolescent mathematics achievement using multisite longitudinal data. We find that preschool mathematics ability predicts mathematics achievement through age 15, even after accounting for early reading, cognitive skills, and family and child characteristics. Moreover, we find that growth in mathematical ability between age 54 months and first grade is an even stronger predictor of adolescent mathematics achievement. These results demonstrate the importance of prekindergarten mathematics knowledge and early math learning for later achievement.