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See Inside Scientific American Volume 311, Issue 3

Book Review: The Marshmallow Test

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Credit: Little, Brown

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The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control
by Walter Mischel
Little, Brown, 2014

One marshmallow now or two later? This simple choice has agonized preschoolers since the 1960s, when psychologist Mischel began running his famous experiment to test children's ability to delay gratification. It turns out that a kid's performance on this willpower test predicts far-reaching outcomes such as SAT scores, relationship satisfaction and even body-mass index later in life. The good news is that the ability to resist instant gratification for longer-term rewards is not innate but can be learned. “It is a skill open to modification, and it can be enhanced through specific cognitive strategies that have now been identified,” Mischel writes in this account of the history of the test and the revelations it has produced. Admittedly impatient himself, he details the tactics that help our minds resist temptation and the implications of his work on child rearing, education and public policy.

This article was originally published with the title "The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control."

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