(p. A20) Walter Mischel, whose studies of delayed gratification in young children clarified the importance of self-control in human development, and whose work led to a broad reconsideration of how personality is understood, died on Wednesday [September 12, 2018] at his home in Manhattan.
. . .
In a series of experiments at Stanford University beginning in the 1960s, he led a research team that presented preschool-age children with treats — pretzels, cookies, a marshmallow — and instructed them to wait before indulging themselves. Some of the children received strategies from the researchers, like covering their eyes or reimagining the treat as something else; others were left to their own devices.
The studies found that in all conditions, some youngsters were far better than others at deploying the strategies — or devising their own — and that this ability seemed to persist at later ages. And context mattered: Children given reason to distrust the researchers tended to grab the treats earlier.
. . .
For the wider public, it would be the marshmallow test. In the late 1980s, decades after the first experiments were done, Dr. Mischel and two co-authors followed up with about 100 parents whose children had participated in the original studies. They found a striking, if preliminary, correlation: The preschoolers who could put off eating the treat tended to have higher SAT scores, and were better adjusted emotionally on some measures, than those who had given in quickly to temptation.
The paper was cautious in its conclusions, and acknowledged numerous flaws, including a small sample size. No matter. It was widely reported, and a staple of popular psychology writing was born: If Junior can hold off eating a marshmallow for 15 minutes in preschool, then he or she is headed for the dean’s list.
. . .
In 2014, Dr. Mischel published his own account of the experiment and its reception, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.”
In at least one serious replication attempt, scientists failed to find the same results. Still, there is general agreement that self-discipline, persistence, grit — call it what you like — is a good predictor of success in many areas of life.
. . .
“I am glad that at the choice point at 18 I resisted going into my uncle’s umbrella business,” he wrote in the autobiographical essay. “The route I did choose, or stumbled into, still leaves me eager early each morning to get to work in directions I could not have imagined at the start, wishing only for more time, and not wanting to spend too much of it looking back.”
For the full obituary, see:
Benedict Carey. “Walter Mischel, 88, Marshmallow Test Creator, Dies.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018): A20.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 14, 2018, and has the title “Walter Mischel, 88, Psychologist Famed for Marshmallow Test, Dies’.”)
Mischel’s book on delayed gratification, is:
Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.