The Marshmallow Test

by | May 14, 2013 | Priorities, Temptation, Treasure

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel conducted an experiment at Stanford University called The Marshmallow Experiment. The experiment involved testing a group of four-year-olds. Each was offered a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one.

The children reacted differently. Some gobbled down the lone marshmallow immediately. Others kept looking at the marshmallow, smelling it, and even touching it, but refrained from eating it. Others sought to distract themselves by singing or walking around until the second marshmallow arrived.

Researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and found that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (as determined by surveys of parents and teachers). Those who waited also scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

On the other hand, the one-third that could not wait for the second marshmallow continued to demonstrate the lack of ability to control immediate impulses to achieve long-range goals. For example, Ronald Gross cites that when it was time for the big test, they would tend to get distracted into watching a favorite television program.*

The ability to wait in order to obtain a greater reward has been termed “delayed gratification.” It requires one to exercise self-control to say “NO” to something NOW in order to obtain a greater benefit in the future.

Observe a “case study” in the life of a man named Moses:

“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Moses’ first marshmallow was the treasure of Egypt. He was willing to say “NO” to it in order to obtain the reward of following God!

Each of us is tempted with “marshmallows.” Satan makes sure of that…. Giving in to these temptations is called SIN (James 1:13-15), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Each of us has never been successful in denying ourselves the temporary pleasures of sin and therefore we are guilty (Romans 3:23).

But God loves us so much that He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16) so that we may have forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 6:23).

He will forgive those who trust in Jesus (Acts 16:30-31), turn from sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men (Romans 10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ (Acts 2:38).

Then we must focus on the great reward by following Him, and with His help and grace continue to say “NO” to sin and “YES” to eternal life!

Won’t YOU say “NO” to the instant gratification of sin and “YES” to Christ so that you may receive the greatest gift of all?

David A. Sargent / Minister


The Marshmallow Test