The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, has been the object of intrigue for decades. The focus of this series of studies was the exploration of delayed gratification. There have been many recreations, showing young children being presented with one marshmallow and the promise that if they waited and did not eat the marshmallow, the researcher would return with two marshmallows for them to enjoy.
The findings were spectacular! Four decades later, the children from the original experiment demonstrated a strong association between the ability to delay gratification (wait for the extra marshmallows) and their mental health, differences in activity in key areas of the brain, competence and success later in life. Overall, the participants who were able to wait were more successful later in life.
Celeste Kidd worked on a more recent study that highlighted an additional point – trust. The new study manipulated the reliability of the conditions and found that waiting for the promised extra treats was strongly correlated with the degree of trust in the conditions (the trustworthiness of the promise).
Kidd explained (as quoted by Rochester University), “Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay.”
It turns out that one’s ability to employ self-control is also influenced by external factors. Thus, delayed gratification PLUS a reliable environment offers insight into success later in life.