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

certainty in the marshmallow test until we started trying to do that type of experiment ourselves on adults and weren't getting any interesting behavior," Kable said. "That the kids don't know how long it's going to be until the researcher returns changes the entire decision problem!"

This confusion may stem from the explanations provided for children's decisions in the marshmallow test. Some of the researchers who have employed the marshmallow test and its variants have hypothesized that participants' decision to eat the marshmallow could be attributed to a strong impulse overriding the original decision to wait, or that the ability to wait was drawing on a reserve of self control that is depleted over time. Since these hypotheses make the same predictions even when there is no uncertainty, the uncertainty was often downplayed.

Kable and McGuire's analysis of data from earlier marshmallow-test studies showed problems for these hypotheses, however. If reversing the decision to wait was a function of the wearing down of self control, the time at which children eat the first marshmallow should be clustered in the middle or towards the end of the waiting period. Instead, children who gave up waiting tended to do so within the first few minutes.

After this analysis, Kable and McGuire did their own survey-based research to see how people estimate the lengths of waiting times in different situations.

The researchers asked participants to imagine themselves in a variety of scenarios, such as watching a movie, practicing the piano or trying to lose weight. Participants were told the amount of time they had been at the activity and were asked to respond how long they thought it would be until they reached their goal or the end.

The results showed a marked difference between the scenario with a relatively well-defined length and those that were more ambiguous.

"Our intuition is that when we are waiting for something, th
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Contact: Evan Lerner
elerner@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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