This reminds me.¹ A few days ago a reader drew my attention to a new time-series analysis of the famous marshmallow test. This is basically a test of delayed gratification in children. They are offered the choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later if they wait until the researcher returns from a break. After a few minutes of waiting, most kids cave in and eat the single marshmallow.
Here’s the basic result:
Kids have become more self-disciplined over the past 50 years! In my regression, which is a little cruder than Protzko’s but produces nearly the same results, the average time kids are willing to wait in order to get two marshmallows has gone up from five minutes to ten minutes. Maybe this is the result of the phase-out of leaded gasoline starting in 1975?
Maybe, but this study has not yet been peer reviewed. When it is, someone might think to remove the first three results. Here’s what you get:
The trend line is now dead straight. The average has been about nine minutes ever since 1971. Most likely, those first three tests weren’t done all that rigorously since the test was brand new and researchers hadn’t yet figured out all the possible cues that could screw it up.
In any case, those three results from half a century ago are responsible for 100 percent of the increase. I think it’s safe to say that self-discipline among our nation’s youth has stayed pretty steady over the past few decades.
¹What reminds me, you might wonder. I dunno. Maybe writing about Donald Trump earlier this morning.²
²It’s morning in Ireland, anyway.