Saturday, 2 June 2018

Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test

quote [ The marshmallow test is one of the most famous pieces of social-science research: Put a marshmallow in front of a child, tell her that she can have a second one if she can go 15 minutes without eating the first one, and then leave the room. Whether she’s patient enough to double her payout is supposedly indicative of a willpower that will pay dividends down the line, at school and eventually at work. Passing the test is, to many, a promising signal of future success.

But a new study, published last week, has cast the whole concept into doubt. ]

Economics wins out over character again. Darn.
[SFW] [science & technology] [+6]
[by Space_1889@11:50pmGMT]


Dienes said @ 12:47pm GMT on 3rd Jun [Score:5 Insightful]
While I am more in the translational behavior economics field, the marshmallow test is directly related to my research area.

The article pretends that an analysis of family income hasn't been done before, but it has. This is just an area where being rich is beneficial, being self-controlled is beneficial, and being both is even better. If you control for income, performance on the test predicts outcomes - an impulsive rich kid does worse than a self-controlled rich kid. Being rich makes it more likely you'll also be self-controlled, but that isn't a guarantee by a long shot.

Self-control isn't part of the personality or character. Its a skill that can be taught. A rich child is in an environment that is best able to teach those skills. Their parents can model the skills more effectively and the future is more certain. A rich child can afford to wait for the bigger reward. A child in a low SES environment cannot. In an impoverished environment, in which the future is uncertain, the optimal choice, according to behavior economics, is to take the immediate marshmallow. One child is taught to wait for maximum benefit, while the other is taught to be impulsive for maximum benefit. The problem is that same taught impulsivity is no longer adaptive when its applied to other settings and behaviors, and contributes to things like smoking, overeating, stealing, unprotected sex, etc.

A few of you are asking "What about X? How's that impact it?" and for most of you, you're right, and its already been studied. This is a big area that has been largely ignored the last few years by mainstream folks. Mostly because the majority of it is graphing decision curves and its all that math and boring stuff, not cute kids eating treats.

There's a million factors that influence this choice. How much rapport/trust do you have in the person running the test? How long has its been since you've eaten? How long do you have to wait, and do you know how long? What is your current emotional state? What kind of language skills do you have? How many marshmallows will the wait get you? Are you waiting for marshmallows, or juice, or money, or watching a movie? How attractive and similar to you is the experimenter? Is another peer present? Did you see a peer succeed or fail at the test? Can you see the marshmallow you are waiting for or not? The list goes on. Its really fun to graph the curves and see how they shift with the variables - we are not rational or logical creatures, but trust me, we are very predictable.

An Ignobel was awarded to a study that found holding a small crocodile changed your performance on the test. One of my personal favorites found that if you have a man hold a bra, he performs more impulsively on the test than if he held a different piece of clothing or nothing at all.

Relative to other assessment procedures for delayed gratification, the marshmallow test isn't spectacular. IMO, it takes too few data points on performance, when you really want repeated measures of the behavior. But if you start looking at the larger literature on this skill, the necessity to teach it becomes clear.

TL;DR: No shit rich kids do better. They can afford to.
yunnaf said @ 3:57pm GMT on 3rd Jun
So are there "good" tests for self-control? Like can people be taught to resist flashy toys tossed out by Trump and stick to principles? Can sales clerks resist helping a good looking customer?
Dienes said @ 12:50pm GMT on 4th Jun
That is the entire point of my dissertation, so I'll have to get back to you in a year or two. :-p
yunnaf said @ 4:05pm GMT on 4th Jun [Score:1 Funny]
I can't wait, give it to me now!
mechavolt said @ 2:18am GMT on 5th Jun
I think I just brain orgasmed. Thanks! It's nice to see a person literate in social science on teh intarwebs.
lilmookieesquire said @ 1:53am GMT on 3rd Jun [Score:3 Funny]
Rich kids get their lawyers to threaten the scientists with ending their precious tenure and get multiple bags of mashmellows. They then take options on those marshmallows to sell them to poor kids now, for the promise of eight mashmellows in the future (or repossession of any and all Pokémon/power rangers).

They then ride their power wheels around all juiced up on Capri Suns until one night they go on a wild pixie sticks bender- and end up almost getting grounded but their lawyer pleas down to crying and apology with kisses for a week- but they usually only do it for a day before they are let off.
lilmookieesquire said[1] @ 1:55am GMT on 3rd Jun
Also, kids that can’t resist mashmellows are basic. Rich kids only eat organic peeps.

(Edit: Mashmellows is the only acceptable spelling)
damnit said @ 12:05am GMT on 3rd Jun
This marshmallow test probably won't hold, again, done outside of western societies.
Dienes said @ 12:22pm GMT on 3rd Jun
I don't quite know what you mean by 'hold' in this context, but it already has been done in other countries - across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The results are some kids pass and some kids fail. Different proportions of kids in different countries (Cameroon children 'passed' 70% to the 10-30% of US and German kids), but there's been too few studies to make definitive general statements about those populations. Its too early for the longitudinal patterns to be seen, but I eagerly await them.
satanspenis666 said @ 4:58am GMT on 3rd Jun
Given a choice of $400 or a 50:50 chance of receiving $0 or $1,000, most people will go for the sure thing. The expected value of the 50:50 is $500, so there is some perceived value in taking less risk.

On the flip side, when given a choice of losing $400 or a 50:50 chance of losing $0 or $1,000, most people will go for the gamble. People tend to regret losing money, when there is a chance to avoid the loss.

People are complicated and there are so many variables into our decision making processes.
5th Earth said[1] @ 5:00am GMT on 3rd Jun
Begging the question, why are rich kids better able to delay gratification? Lots of theories here but a study sounds like the next step.
von_sanchez said[1] @ 9:18am GMT on 3rd Jun [Score:3 Insightful]
Poor kids are regularly screwed out of the rewards they are promised so they learn to take what they can get when it is on the table in front of them.

backSLIDER said @ 7:04am GMT on 3rd Jun
I did this with my kid, he did was able to wait. But he knows that we will follow through with our word. If you live in a home where that isn't the case then you should obviously take the marshmallow as soon as you can. "Desert rats drink and eat today because they don't know if there will be a tomorrow"

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