The Story of the Irresistible Marshmallow Test

Those in the business of supplying confectionery are, first and foremost, purveyors of pleasure. Every morsel they sell has been designed to give you, the consumer, a moment of delight. In fact, the effect of sweets on human actions has been well-documented by science, with the help of one of everyone’s favourite treats. The famous “marshmallow test,” as it has come to be called, shows how young children react to tempting confectionery.

A Sweet Experiment

In the 1960s, psychologists at Stanford University, led by Walter Mischel, conducted an experiment on delayed gratification: the ability to wait to get something that one wants. The experiment was aided by an airy confection well-loved around the world—the marshmallow. The experiment explored the effects of sweet temptation in children, who were given a simple but challenging choice: will you have one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows later? Interviewers in the experiment offered children at a nursery school the opportunity for instant gratification (one marshmallow now), or delayed gratification (two marshmallows, if they could wait fifteen minutes).

Temptation and Reward

Those who make a living supplying confectionery would understand just how difficult this choice might be, especially for young children. The sweet and squidgy delights offered by the simple but scrumptious marshmallow are difficult to resist. In the study, most of the children, who averaged age four, couldn’t wait more than three minutes before giving into temptation—and we doubt any adult could wait much longer! The children who did manage to wait fifteen minutes for the doubled reward (about one-third of the group of 600 children) resorted to such tactics as covering their eyes, turning their backs, or kicking the desk in order to defy the allure of the tasty treat.

The Marshmallow Metric

In the years since the Stanford experiment, “the marshmallow test” has come to be associated with willpower and self-control. There have been several related studies in recent years that have linked the ability to delay gratification with better life outcomes, such as higher test scores or lower body mass index.

A Simple Recipe

So what does the Stanford marshmallow experiment mean to those in the business of supplying confectionery? Perhaps most significantly for purveyors of sweets, the experiment illustrates the powerful, pleasurable effect of confectionery.

The marshmallow is a simple, sweet treat with an uncomplicated flavour, made by whipping cooked sugar with gelatine until it is lofty and voluminous, at which point it is cooled and cut. The marshmallow’s taste and texture lend itself equally well to being toasted over a campfire or dipped in chocolate. In addition, fun shapes and colours make the marshmallows as visually appealing as they are tasty.

Retail businesses supplying confectionery know that something as delicious as a marshmallow is almost irresistible and they often offer a wide selection to gratify every craving for this delightful and delectable sweet.

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