Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Begone, Marshmallow!

One of the most renowned psychological studies is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment from forty/fifty years ago. The results, as triumphantly tooted until the present day, "proved" that children who would wait for the second marshmallow as opposed to immediately eating the singular one resulted in higher-percentile adults in everything.
Recent work, however, is dulling the shine from these conclusions. Michael Bourne explains the limitations of the original experiment in "We Didn't Eat the Marshmallow. The Marshmallow Ate Us." Despite the study's drawbacks in terms of diversity, which is just one factor, it became intensely popular and constantly cited. I only took a couple of college psychology classes and it came up repeatedly. 

I'm all about self-control and delayed gratification, so this marshmallow thing would really appeal to me. Yet Bourne delves into the many factors at play that were never explored: emotion, intelligence, hunger, time. But there was only one simple statement: Those who waited for a second marshmallow was obviously more disciplined and were high achievers later on. However, it is not so easy. 
The real world is fantastically complex with thousands of factors, some tiny, some enormous, acting on us every day. Did I drift in my 20s because I lacked the temperament to stick with a goal or was I merely exploring my options until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life? Is that child dropping out of school because she lacks grit and determination or is she making a rational decision that, thanks to institutional racism or endemic unemployment in her community, school just isn’t worth the effort? Either may be right. Or neither. Or both.
But that isn’t what we want to hear. We want the instant gratification of an easy answer. We want to hear that character traits can be taught like algebra and geometry and that if you can resist eating a marshmallow at 4, you possess the secret to a successful life. We want the world to be a big fluffy marshmallow, and we want to gobble it up. We want to eat the first marshmallow, but get the second one, too.
"We want the instant gratification of an easy answer." That's it. 

We want easy answers for everything. We want to look gorgeous by slapping on a single miracle product every once in a while. We want to shield ourselves from the realization that tough things can happen by blaming a little boy for his own illness. We want our bashert to walk through the door, tagged and labeled, ready for inspection.

We want complex matters to be clear-cut and self-explanatory. But as Anne Lamott said, "The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty." Jews don't claim to know how God plots this world, yet we still state firmly that A caused B.

As with the marshmallow, there's more at play.   


FrumGeek said...

When I saw the title, I thought this post was going to be about Veronica Mars :P

Daniel Saunders said...

I know the ‘wanting a quick fix’ feeling too well, but I also know it is not conducive to real personal growth, which requires working things through properly.

Princess Lea said...

FG: Even though I was a real VM fan, I don't know where the marshmallow fits into Mars' lore. Help a gal out?

DS: Amen.

sporadicintelligence said...

YE, I don't know about the whole marshmallow thing.

My husband and I were actually talking about it a couple weeks ago and he laughed and said that I definitely would have waited, and probably would've offered to wait longer if it gave me more...but but but...

While I may be an expert at delayed gratification, and that definitely helps me on a financial level (and dietary)- because I KNOW it makes a difference. When it comes to more esoteric things like job success, where you don't have a guarantee of results despite your greatest efforts, and you need more skill than just the ability to delay gratification, I'm not sure if the correlation stands, or is meaningful.

FrumGeek said...

"Well, you know what they say. Veronica Mars, she's a marshmallow."
— Veronica Mars, Pilot

Its the name the fandom calls them selves, like Browncoats for Firefly, or Trekker/ie for Star Trek.

Princess Lea said...

SI: So true. It isn't only delayed gratification that guarantees success. There are a multitude of other qualities that bring that about.

But in terms of ensuring that I fit into my dress for my cousin's wedding, that I can rely on.

FG: I feel so ashamed. I don't recall anything about the marshmallow reference in VM. I don't even know what it means. I am not worthy of fandom! (Sob).