50 Year Study Highlights A Vital Factor For Success in Life

There is something different about what successful people do on a daily basis that helps to make them stand out from the crowd.

Walter Mischel, a Stanford professor, set out to pinpoint that difference by conducting a series of studies, which he started in the 1960’s.

The Marshmallow Experiment

Mischel and his team of researchers chose one hundred children between the ages of four and five years old and brought them into a testing room one at a time.

Each child sat down in a chair, and one of the researchers took a single marshmallow and set it on the table in front of the child.

Once the marshmallow was on the table, the researcher then said that he/she was going to leave the room and come back within 15 minutes.

While he/she was out of the room, the child was to not eat the marshmallow. Following these directions would earn the child a second marshmallow.

Once the researcher had left the room, each child’s reaction appeared to fall into one of three categories.

  1. The first category consisted of children who ate the marshmallow the minute the researcher was no longer in the room.
  2. The second group consisted of children that did everything they could think of to serve as a distraction yet, in the end, ate the marshmallow.
  3. The final group of children did manage to survive the entire 15-minute wait with their marshmallow still on the table.

Power of Delayed Gratification

Upon completion of the experiment, Mischel continued to monitor the children as they went about their life. He also tracked their progress in a variety of different areas of their life and where they saw success.

His findings began to indicate that the children in the third group, the ones who chose not to take the marshmallow, were producing the following results:

  • Higher test results on the SAT and other similar tests.
  • Lower levels of substance abuse.
  • Less of a presence of obesity.
  • Positive reactions to stress.
  • Positive social skills among peers.

This research and evaluation period went on for over 50 years, and each year the results were the same.

The children from that third group always outperformed their peers in the other two groups.

Mischel felt confident concluding that delayed gratification plays a vital role in the level of success a person achieves later in life.

Delayed Gratification is Everywhere

Mischel’s findings linking delayed gratification to success is evident in just about every corner of the world.

Take a minute to think about the following situations. Each involves Michel’s findings of delayed gratification:

  • A student who decides to put off watching a favorite television program in favor of finishing his homework, will receive higher grades.
  • A person who passes on purchasing sweets at the store in favor of waiting to prepare a healthy meal at home later, receives a positive medical check-up at the doctor.
  • A person at the gym who decides against leaving early and stays to complete a few more miles on the treadmill, will be fitter.

Taking it a Step Further: Where Does The Ability To Delay Gratification Come From

Following the success of the Marshmallow Experiment, researchers at the University of Rochester took the experiment one step further.

They gathered a large group of children and separated them into two smaller groups.

For this test, a researcher gave each child a small box of crayons with a promise to provide a larger box upon his return to the testing room. Next, he gave each child a small sticker, promising to provide a bigger one shortly.

The first group of children never received that bigger box of crayons or the larger sticker. The second group of children received both items, as promised.

So the first group of children learned that delayed gratification is a negative thing, while the second group of children saw that it as a positive thing.

The researches then took both group of children through the Marshmallow Test. It was found that the second group of children waited four times longer than the first group.

These results indicate that delayed gratification can be a learned response, based on personal experience and surrounding environments. It isn’t something that you have to be born with.



To use these findings in a practical way, try and make delayed gratification part of your everyday life. Practice self control in small and big situations, as opposed to electing to take the easy route.

The professional sports industry is a perfect example of this thought process. Any athlete at the top of his game is often the last one on the field, getting in those last few throws, or shooting just one final basket, while the rest of the team heads to the locker room.

You (and your children) can learn and practice such self control and discipline, to become better at various aspects of your life.

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