#785: Brain Insight Lecture

06 May

It was part of a Columbia program, and the speaker was the marshmallow test guy.

He has a name, of course–it’s Dr. Walter Mischel–but I knew him as the marshmallow test guy.

Which I thought was a common thing, but apparently it’s not, since my friend who studied psychology hadn’t even heard of the test. (Isn’t it strange the things we assume are universal?)  But maybe you’ve heard of him: he did the studies where they offered small children a marshmallow that they could eat now, or they could choose to wait and would be promised 2 marshmallows later.

The test, and the lecture last night, was surrounding willpower and self-control.

Whenever I hear about the marshmallow test, I always assume I’d be the kid who couldn’t wait for the 2 marshmallows.  Give me what’s in front of me, what I can have right now, over some abstract idea I may never achieve, for sure.  However, during the lecture, Dr. Mischel talked about how it was important that the child trusted the adult in order for it to work, and I realized that my penchant for wanting to follow the rules–as a kid in school, as an adult playing board games, whatever–might overpower my desire to eat a marshmallow as soon as I possibly can.

And while I generally think I’m not good at long-term goals (the marathon being the first one I’ve really dedicated myself to in my adult life), either conceiving them or following them through, I am pretty ridiculously stubborn.  So if I decided I was going to wait for the 2 marshmallows, I bet I would have.  If something is important to me, I will put in the necessary effort.

There’s obviously no way to know for sure what I would have done as a little kid in that experiment, but if you tried it on me today, I think I would take the one marshmallow now.  While I understand that just because the future is uncertain it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for it, and I probably don’t appear to be a particularly impulsive or spontaneous person in everyday life, I do panic when I think about the prospect of snacks not being available later.

Which was also why, at the end of the lecture during the inevitable question period (you know, the time when attendees try to sound smart and catch the lecturer at something they don’t know?), I didn’t care to listen to the opinions of these strangers.  I hadn’t had dinner yet and there were tacos to be eaten.

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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Science


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