Here’s some good news: Your fate cannot be determined solely by a test of your ability at age 5 to resist the temptation of one marshmallow for 15 minutes to get two marshmallows.
This relieving bit of insight comes to us from a paper published recently in the journal Psychological Science that revisited one of the most famous studies in social science, known as “the marshmallow test.”
The idea behind the new paper was to see if research from the late 1980s and early ’90s showing that a simple delay of gratification (eating a marshmallow) at ages 4 through 6 could predict future achievement in school and life could be replicated.
What the researchers found: Delaying gratification at age 5 doesn’t say much about your future. Rather, there are more important — and frustratingly stubborn — forces at work that push or pull us from our greatest potential.
What the latest marshmallow test paper shows is that home life and intelligence are very important for determining both delaying gratification and later achievement. These are factors that are constantly influencing a child.
Their influence may be growing in an increasingly unequal society. As income inequality has increased in America, so have achievement gaps. Today, the largest achievement gaps in education are not between white Americans and minorities, but between the rich and poor. Research from Stanford economist Sean Reardon finds that the school achievement gap between the richest and poorest Americans is twice the size of the achievement gap between black and white Americans and has been growing for decades.
Reducing poverty could go a long way to improving the educational attainment and well-being of kids. “It’s very hard to find psychological effects that are not explained by the socioeconomic status of families,” says Pamela Davis-Kean, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan. Nothing changes a kid’s environment like money.
Money buys good food, quiet neighborhoods, safe homes, less stressed and healthier parents, books, and time to spend with children. Teaching kids how to delay gratification or have patience “may not be the primary thing that’s going to change their situation,” Davis-Kean says.
Read the full article at Vox.