THE POWER OF WILL
One can have the feeling that we live in a world where, increasingly, people search for the immediate results, the immediate pleasures, where patience or the joy of pleasure at the right time are disappearing. Everything must be easy to get, everything has to be here and now.
Knowing how to wait for gratification, knowing how to stop in time, being patient, is not an easy task to get done.
It was down to Professor Walter Mischel, a prestigious social psychologist who currently teaches at Columbia University in the United States, in the late 60s and early 70s, to conduct various experiments with children as he wanted to see if there were differences among children who were not able to defer pleasure and those who do. He carried on the first experiments in his daughters’ nursery.
The experiment was simple: children were offered a tasty and squishy marshmallow, these soft touch goodies, fluffy and sweet that they like in general. The challenge was no joke: the candy was placed in front of the child, who stayed sat and was told that if he could resist eating it until the return of the teacher, one quarter of an hour later, he would receive another treat, identical. Then, “if you eat it now, you have nothing, but if you wait a few minutes alone with the candy in front of you and not eat it, you will win another”. The result: more than half of the children were tempted and ended up eating the candy in less than three minutes, a 15% licked it, pinched it, hit it, and only 30% passed the test.
But the experiment did not end there. Professor Mischel decided to follow the lives of these children for twenty years on and found that those who had fallen into the temptation to eat the marshmallow quickly had more emotional difficulties and lack of self-control in the future. They found it harder to handle the pressure, managing stress, it was more complicated for them also to manage their relationships and, as other indicators showed, for example, those who had controlled and won the second marshmallow got 200 points more than the average on the SAT test used in U.S. universities for admissions.
The test was emulated by different universities over the years, with similar results, until a new study by the University of Rochester showed a new interpretation of the findings. It was observed that children tend to have more self-control and not put away the candy depending on the trust they put on the researchers who show the marshmallow to them and tell them what the experiment is about. A greater confidence to the researcher, the more likely the child holds on. It’s logical. If someone promises you that if you are good then you will have more of what you want, and that someone is kind, loving, becomes credible, and you feel he will really accomplish what he promises (he will give you another candy if you do not eat the one you are shown now), you trust him more, and therefore you keep a patient waiting.
Anyway, both the conclusions of Professor Mischel and the University of Rochester are full of common sense. The experiment of the marshmallow is a classic that makes us see that, obviously, those who wait and postpone the pleasure have more self-control and therefore act more from the head than from the stomach. On the other hand, if the one who gives you something inspires confidence, you trust him over and you are more patient.
I wanted to show you this video where you can watch the experiment. It’s funny how these few little people manage to endure, while others cannot wait and hit lick or nip of the marshmallow, or simply eat it up in a glimpse. Isn’t it what temptations are all about, is it?
Kisses and hugs,
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