Thursday, December 14, 2006

Marshmallows and Public Policy

Around 1970, Walter Mischel launched a classic experiment. He left a succession of 4-year-olds in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If they rang the bell, he would come back and they could eat the marshmallow. If, however, they didn't ring the bell and waited for him to come back on his own, they could then have two marshmallows.

The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into better colleges and had, on average, better adult outcomes. The children who rang the bell quickest were more likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations 10 years on and were more likely to have drug problems at age 32.

The ability to delay gratification, like most skills, correlates with socioeconomic status and parenting styles. Children from poorer homes do much worse on delayed gratification tests than children from middle-class homes.

What works, says Jonathan Haidt, the author of "The Happiness Hypothesis," is creating stable, predictable environments for children, in which good behavior pays off — and practice. Young people who are given a series of tests that demand self-control get better at it over time.
In makes you wonder about what skills should be taught in school. If delaying gratification correlates with more success in school and in life, and if it can be taught seems like it should be.

I was reading in Happiness and Economics that education is not correlated with happiness. How strange is it that we spend all this time getting educated and yet on average it doesn't increase happiness?

I also happened to have just read the Happiness Hypothesis book mentioned, and I would highly recommend it. Lots of interesting stuff in it.

via NY Times $elect


crush41 said...

Having a long-term orientation is highly correlated with higher IQ. It's symptomatic--I doubt 'teaching' children not to act on their impulses will do much to boost intelligence (although it probably wouldn't hurt from the perspective of knowledge accumulation via better discipline, etc).

As you become more educated you become more aware of the world that surrounds you, how insignificant you are, how little you have and how little you know. As Lisa Simpson said: "As intelligence goes up, happiness goes down. See, I made a graph. I make a lot of graphs." Well, it's not that clear cut. But IQ's positive correlation with all sorts of social variables doesn't seem to extend to the realm of happiness. It's a lot more ambiguous there.

Fat Knowledge said...


I have a good article that hopefully I will blog about soon that talks about how you can teach the skills. Not sure if it raises IQ, but it does raise test scores.

Good quote. I make lots of graphs as well. :)

The Happiness and Economics also pointed out what you say that IQ and happiness aren't correlated. Makes you wonder how smart these high IQ people really are, if they aren't smart enough to learn to be happy.

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