The psychologist who famously demonstrated the importance of being able to delay gratification to achieving later success in life died on September 12 in New York City. Walter Mischel, emeritus professor of psychology at Columbia University and self-proclaimed “Marshmallow Man,” was 88.
“Professor Mischel is revered for his work in self-regulation. He is the author of the popular book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. In it, he describes his groundbreaking studies of young children in the 1960s and 1970s, during which they were given the choice between receiving one immediate treat and receiving two treats 15 minutes later. The tactics used by the youngsters to distract themselves had implications for delayed gratification in adults. For example, when faced with the urge to smoke or a choice between arguing versus compromise, Mischel recommended keeping a goal in mind and focusing on the consequences of losing self-control.”
Mischel’s landmark behavioral study involved 600 kids between the ages of four and six, all culled from Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. He would give each child a marshmallow and gave them the option of eating it immediately if they chose. But if they could wait 15 minutes, they would get a second marshmallow as a reward. Then Mischel would leave the room and a hidden video camera would tape what happened next.