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Penn research: Quitting marshmallow test can be a rational decision
Date:3/26/2013

A psychological experiment known as "the marshmallow test" has captured the public's imagination as a marker of self control and even as a predictor of future success. This test shows how well children can delay gratification, a trait that has been shown to be as important to scholastic performance as traditional IQ.

New research from University of Pennsylvania psychologists suggests, however, that changing one's mind about delaying gratification can be a rational decision in situations when the timing of the payoff is uncertain.

The research was conducted by assistant professor Joseph Kable and postdoctoral researcher Joseph McGuire, both of the Department of Psychology in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Review.

In the classic marshmallow test, researchers give children a choice between one marshmallow and two. After the children enthusiastically choose two, the experimenter says that they need to leave for "a few minutes" or "a little while." The children are also told that, if they can hold off eating the one marshmallow until the researcher returns, they can have the two marshmallows they prefer. With the children left alone in the room, hidden cameras track how long they resist temptation. Most try to wait but end up caving within a few minutes.

"The kids' responses seem illogical if you decided to wait in the first place, why wouldn't you wait the whole way through?" Kable said.

This behavior was an intriguing puzzle for Kable; he studies how people make value-based decisions, especially when they require comparing the value of something in the present with something else in the future. But, in conducting his own variants of the marshmallow test, he found that a key fact had been glossed over in both popular and academic discussions: the children don't know how long they will have to wait.

"I didn't even know that there was un
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Contact: Evan Lerner
elerner@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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