14 Jun 2012


Suppose you can not only tell that the street musician is superb but also recognize he is Joshua Bell, will you stop and listen?

If we ignore the fact that one may listen for a while and can still go to work on time, the scenario reminds me of the famous marshmallow experiment. In 1972, Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a study on delayed gratification. In this experiment, preschoolers were offered the choices of taking one marshmallow immediately or getting two if they agreed to wait until the investigators came back. What the children did not know was that the investigators had no plan to come back. Instead, their behavior was videotaped and the time until they took the marshmallow was recorded.

Remarkably, when the investigators followed these children up, those who could resist the temptation and choose the later but bigger reward had better school performance and higher Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores (Science 1989;244:933-8). Last year, follow-up data of these children, now in their 40s, were presented. When they came back for further psychological tests, those who took the marshmallow quickly at the age of four continued to be distracted more easily by emotion and make mistakes four decades later (PNAS 2011;108:14998-5003).

For obvious reasons, I tried the same experiment on Angelina.

To my dismay, she gobbled the candy up before I finished my instructions.

I spent more time to explain and asked, "Don’t you prefer two candies?"

"No, one is enough," she grinned.

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