Why Wealthy Kids Do So Well on the Marshmallow Test

How to use the test to teach your children about willpower.

Sean Kernan
5 min readJun 15, 2024
pic via Pexels Images

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the marshmallow test cited. To be fair, it is one of the most famous and important developmental psychology experiments ever done — or so we thought.

For the few who don’t know, it had a very simple premise. In 1970, Stanford psychology professor, Dr. Walter Mischel, wanted to test the impact of a child’s ability to delay gratification. And specifically, they were correlating this to a person’s ego strength and impulse control.

How it all worked

A child was presented with the chance to eat one marshmallow now, or wait 15 minute and get two. The catch was, they had to sit in the room with just the marshmallow on a plate in front of them.

What was particularly interesting was the observed tactics some children employed to exercise restraint. Some whistled songs to themselves to avoid thinking about the marshmallow. Others refused to look at it. Some tapped their feet and looked at the ground to distract themselves. We saw their self-control on full display.

Researchers found that when the marshmallow wasn’t visible, children could wait much longer. In interviewing children, those…

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Sean Kernan

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