By Sarah Hedgecock
When I was very young, my mom gave me a test to see how I would turn out in 20 years: she placed a marshmallow in front of me, saying that if I could wait 10 minutes, she’d give me two marshmallows. If I ate the treat before time was up, that would be the only marshmallow I’d get that day.
She was emulating a famous series of studies known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment (although the researchers in those studies also used other snacks), which used tests like this to learn about kids’ understanding of deferred gratification. Later studies found strong correlations between waiting for a second marshmallow as a preschooler and positive later outcomes like higher SAT scores. Since those initial experiments, scientists have continued to research how non-cognitive abilities in young kids impact how they do on measures traditionally associated with pure intelligence.