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The Marshmallow Test – and what has that got to do with meditation?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 The Marshmallow Test – and what has that got to do with meditation?

The Stanford Marshmallow Test was a test conducted in the early 70s by Walter Mishcel.

Here’s how Wikepedia explains it

The experiment was conducted in 1972 by psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University.[1] The experiment has been repeated many times since, and the original study at Stanford has been “regarded as one of the most successful behavioural experiments”.[2] In the study, a marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so had an effect on their future success.[3] The results provided researchers with great insight on the psychology of self control.

Basically (and these are my words alone now) the ability of kids to wait for the second marshmallow was a big predictor of success later in life. The kids who could wait – did better. More than 600 kids took part and about 1/3 of them were able to wait until the second marshmallow.

Here’s some pretty funny reenactments on Youtube.

Other than being funny and pretty interesting (could my 4 year old self have waited?) this study has some big implications for the positive effects of practicing meditation.

This information is from The Social Animal (and the stuff that really interested me)

…the crucial finding concerned the nature of the strategies that worked. The kids who did poorly directed their attention right at the marshmallow. They thought if they looked right at it they could somehow master their temptation to eat it. The ones who could wait distracted themselves from the marshmallow. They pretended it wasn’t real, it wasn’t there, or it wasn’t really a marshmallow. They had techniques to adjust their attention.

“And the relevance to meditation?” you ask. Seems to me that meditation is exactly that – a technique to adjust attention.

There are lots of really indepth articles and examinations of this study. If you are interested, check some of these out?


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