I read about a fascinating experiment on Momisodes (thanks to Angela from mommy bytes who was guest posting while Sandy was on vacation).

The basic idea is that toddlers learn the concept of willpower around the age of four. And, by testing this willpower (with the use of some sort of chocolate), you MAY be able to predict their future success in life.

Sounds sketchy, eh?

Well, the scientist Walter Mischel is the person who stumbled upon these findings, and he gave this fascinating interview on public radio about his findings.

(I used to think my husband was either an old man or a geek for liking Public Radio, but I have come love it through his exposing me to it. So I’m now either an old man or a geek also.)

Back to Walter. He only set out to test his theory that willpower develops around four years old. He did this by setting a child in a room with a cookie, and telling them that they could eat it now, but if they DIDN’T eat it, when he got back, they could have TWO cookies. He would then leave the room for twenty minutes, all while watching the kids on video. He was able to pretty well prove that four was the age of the development of willpower, and that some children definitely had more than others.

However, he found out more than he ever meant to.

He kept up with the 500 participants until current day (they’re now in their forties), and was able to see startling evidence that the children who could resist temptation at four years old actually did MUCH better in many areas of life. They had better grades in school, made over 200 points higher scores on the SAT, went to better colleges, got better jobs, and were even skinnier than the kids who could not overcome the temptation of the cookie.

His basic point is that if a person is able to have willpower to delay immediate gratification for future better things, you will do better in life. And the trait of willpower may be hardwired as early as four years old.

Just a theory, of course.

So, although she’s not four yet, I found this experiment so fascinating that I had to try it on Ali. I mean, she’s a pretty logical kid. She’ll be able to do it, right?

I didn’t have cookies, but I had chocolate. And I decided that I would not leave the room for 20 minutes (she would come find me long before that period of time elapsed), but maybe more like one or two minutes.

So here’s how our “game” went:


So much for even leaving the room.

I’m going to wholeheartedly blame my findings in this experiment on the fact that she’s two and not four years old.

However, she will most definitely be tested again in two years.

How about you? Any takers out there to run your kids through the experiment? What do you think about Walter’s theories?

19 thoughts on “The Grand Chocolate Willpower Experiment

  1. So cute!! I eat it!!

    Thanks so much for trying this out, you’re my first guinea pig. Now my husband and I keep saying to the kids “you’ll fail the cookie test” whenever they misbehave and they have no idea what we’re talking about.

    Definitely try again in two years! And probably not right on her birthday, maybe 4 1/2.

  2. I love the experiment and you didn’t even get out of the room, but she is only 2 1/2. She is smart and knows chocolate is chocolate and don’t let it get away. LYB

  3. Great video. I love her little face and they way she looks just like she is really concentrating on what you are saying, and then she pops it in!

  4. I don’t blame her I don’t think I could have resisted either. She is too cute! And a very smart 2 year old.

  5. For the record I would have eaten it right then as well….it’s chocolate!! Yummy! What a cute experiment. i will have to try it with Gracie this afternoon..she is 4. LOL

  6. You said “You can eat it now, but if you wait you can two pieces of chocolate.”

    Ali heard “you can eat it now. You can TWO pieces of chocolate.”

    hate to say, but I saw that one coming. a two year old has NO willpower. LOL. I will try it with Jorge although he won’t be 4 until next month.

    And i have some other views on the findings when the 500 participants were older. One variable could change everything.. Christ. So I would like to see how that would be different for those who have a true, abiding relationship with Christ (overcoming temptation and all)..

    cute. thanks for posting.

  7. Okay, my middle just turned 4 last month so I’m going to test him tonight, I’ll let you know the results!

  8. I saw some video on this and it was hysterical. Your daughter is super cute. I think I’d eat it too.


  9. Well, at least she waited til she got the final word that she could eat it.That showed some will power.I’ll try this one on my baby.Although she tends to follow me around.

  10. Woodstock turns 4 next month. After reading this I thought I’d try it with him. (Stinkerbell is the same age as Ali and she would never even understand the whole wait thing) I gave him a piece of gum, told him what you said, and left the room. I watched him as he looked at it and even rubbed it on his lips but didn’t eat it. Then (after only 3 min.) he asked when I was coming back. I went back in the room and he began to not eat the gum but negotiate for about five minutes on why he needed to have both pieces of gum. I ended up giving in and he got them both. When he opened them up he said he just wanted the second one to share with me. Now we’re both eating gum and I’m not sure what this says about him or me… :)

  11. Love the experiment, can’t wait to try it on Luke in a few years! You should ask Lydia to try it on Brooks.

  12. hmm…Mrs. Butler may be showing up to school one day later this week with two dozen cookies in hand to see if any of her one dozen seven-year-olds can even pass the “cookie test”… :)

  13. Oh my goodness! She is ADORABLE!

    And you temptress using chocolate :)
    Now how could anyone resist holding off eating chocolate? ;)

    I loved that you tried this and captured this clip. I may have to try doing it with Babisodes!

    Thanks so much for the shout out.

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