Last weekend, we got talking to some friends about a study described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. In the study, they took a bunch of four year olds and sat them down in an empty room in front of a marshmallow. They told the kids that they could eat the marshmallow any time, but if they could wait 20 minutes without eating it, they would receive a second marshmallow and could eat both.
They then followed the kids for years, and by the time they were well into adulthood, it became clear that the ones who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow were far ahead of their more eager counterparts when it came to success. They made more money, they had more responsibility, they were farther along in their careers and accomplishments.
So Sir Monkeypants and I immediately both thought of our own four year old, Little Miss Sunshine, who only has two weeks left until she’s too old for this test. And we thought, maybe we don’t really want to know. Because there’s no guidelines in the book on what to do if your kid fails the test – possible strategies for turning them into future successes. It seems that if they fail the marshmallow test, they’re marked for life. We might end up spending our entire life patting Little Miss Sunshine on the head in a pitying kind of way, sighing that she’ll never amount to anything because she ate the marshmallow.
Plus, we did not have any marshmallows actually on hand, nor a sterile empty room to run the test.
But Sir Monkeypants was undeterred, so he beckoned over the Little Miss for the following conversation:
Sir Monkeypants: Little Miss Sunshine, say I give you a marshmallow. You can eat it right now, or you can wait 20 minutes and then you can have two marshmallows. What would you do?
Little Miss Sunshine: But, I don’t want a marshmallow.
[Parents beam with pride at their child circumnavigating the whole of science in this manner.]
Sir Monkeypants: Okay, say I have something you do want – like a Hershey’s Kiss. Would you like one now, or two in twenty minutes?
Little Miss Sunshine: If I wait, do I get marshmallows AND kisses?
Sir Monkeypants: No, if you do the waiting you get two things but just two.
Little Miss Sunshine: What if I wait an hour? Then can I get two marshmallows AND two kisses?
Sir Monkeypants: Um, I guess so.
Little Miss Sunshine: Then I will choose that.
FUTURE PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA, right there, folks! I am so proud.