Book review: The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel

The Marshmallow Test

What The Marshmallow Test is about

This book is about the famous Marshmallow Test, a psychological experiment that tested the self-restraint of children. The test was conducted in the US in the 1960s and children were given the choice between having a marshmallow instantly or getting two marshmallows after waiting a few minutes. The results showed that the children who exhibited self-control ended up having more willpower as adults as well and as a consequence had higher-paying careers and an overall better quailty of life.

In the first part, the book provides a detailed description of the test, its conduction and its implication. We learn that:

  • Children whose parents promoted autonomous decision-making had better self-restraint.
  • Children that were told to use IF-THEN plans (If X happens, then I do Y) did better on the test.

It later goes on to talk about willpower in a more general way:

  • Willpower is something that can be learned and trained.
  • Having willpower and self-control in one domain doesn’t necessarily translate to another domain (someone that has a strict diet might be an untidy person).
  • We should praise effort not talent in order to foster the development of willpower.
  • If you want to encourage willpower in your children, you have to model the behavior you want to see.

Why I chose to read The Marshmallow Test

The marshmallow test itself is quite a famous experiment, hence why I was curious to learn more about its details. I didn’t expect to learn anything revolutionary about willpower and how to develop it.

What I liked about The Marshmallow Test

The initial stages of the book were interesting enough because the author describes the experiment in a detailed way. You learn quite a bit about how it was conducted and there are a few interesting insights about how the kids that participated in the test turned out to be as adults.

What I didn’t like about it

It wasn’t exactly an intellectually demanding book in my opinion. Moreover, just like with Willpower, it took me quite a bit of willpower to finish this one because it was so incredibly wordy. It feels like with these books the authors have one or two points to make but need to fill a whole lot of pages because no one would buy a 120-page book.

I also felt like the book could have gone into much greater depth about the implications of the results for child education. I know this isn’t a pedagogical book but it would have been interesting to read more about what to do with these results in the real world.

What I learned from The Marshmallow Test

I learned that teaching people to be responsible and make their own decisions is also good for their self-restraint, something that I had always suspected.

Who I’d recommend The Marshmallow Test to

I think if you’re a parent and want to test your child, you might be interested in reading bits and pieces of the first part of the book. You won’t miss too much with the rest.

Recommended to people that really want to find out more about the marshmallow test.

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