Willpower Experiment

You know that bizarre phenomenon where you go to bed thinking “I’ve got to get up at 6 AM tomorrow”, and then you wake up, with no alarm, at 5:59?

Or does that just happen to me?

(Not recently, obviously – my baby alarm goes off EVERY morning before I’m ready to get up.)

Last week, I had a blog post alarm go off.  I wrote this post almost exactly two years ago, and said in the post that I would re-attempt it in two years.

And, alas, I just remembered it last Thursday.

So it’s time to retry The Willpower Experiment.

A quick recap so that you don’t have to go back and read the original post:

I’m all about a good experiment that uses my kid as a lab rat, and so when I read about Scientist Walter Mischel’s study on kids and willpower, I knew I HAD to try it.

(The only problem was that when I read about it, my kid was two years too young for it.)

(However, Age requirements never stop me from subjecting my kid to lab rat status.)

Back to the experiment.  He only set out to prove that willpower develops around the age of four.  He did this, but he also learned more than that: by following up with his 500 test subjects for the next four decades, he discovered more correlations with willpower at an early age.

He learned that kids who were able to pass the willpower test at age four were significantly more successful in later life than the ones who didn’t.  They had better grades in school, made over 200 points higher scores on the SAT, went to better colleges, and got better jobs than the kids who could not grasp the concept of delayed gratification.

The test goes like this: you offer your kid a treat – chocolate, cookies, candy, whatever would tempt them.  You tell them that they can eat the treat now – it’s their treat – or, if they wait for you to come back, they can have MORE treats.  But if they eat the treat now, they won’t get more treats when you get back.  You then exit the room, leaving them to drool over their tempting treat.

My attempt of this experiment when Ali was 2 1/2 was a resounding failure – but a pretty dang cute failure:

At least I proved that willpower does not, at all, develop at 2 1/2.

So technically, I should have done this right at her fourth birthday, but unfortunately, I set my mental alarm clock for “two years later” instead of “age four”, so here’s the repeat, at age 4 1/2.

(Note: I left the room for about six minutes, but I significantly sped up the “waiting” part of the video so that you could see what Ali did, but you didn’t have to wait six minutes to do so.)

(You’re welcome.)

Now whether this test proves anything about Ali’s future or not is quite skeptical, but it does prove something about my counting skills: the first thing she said after she finished shoving the jellybeans down her throat was that she counted those jellybeans while she waited for me, and there were only seven, not eight.

Hopefully, she’ll at least be more successful at counting than her Mother.

33 thoughts on “A Revisit to The Willpower Experiment.

  1. Okay, our sounds is not working on our computer right now so I couldn’t hear, but the video was too cute. I might try this with James today. I don’t know if he will eat the jellybeans, but I do KNOW there is no way in heaven he will stay on the couch for six minutes. At least not sitting still. He will be rolling, jumping, or flipping flips off the couch by minute 1 1/2. Guaranteed.

  2. ummmmmm….I’m with mamahen!! Eden would be going nuts on the couch…if she’d even stay on the couch. more likely, she’d move up to the table and stare blankly at the jelly beans just waiting for my return. Really impressed with Ali’s willpower AND her ability to sit still!! :)

  3. Just tried it w/ Abigail (turned 3 in March) w/ 5 m&ms (told her she could have 10). She reacted just like Ali and said, “Okay, I’ll wait for you.” I came back in 5 minutes later. I put them on her activity table, and she rested her head on the table, just staring at them no more than 3 inches away from her. She waited. I was so proud.

  4. Wow! Do ALL 4 year olds sit on the couch that nicely for that long? How do I teach my children to do THAT?! By the way, the greeting card for the husband who isn’t “happily ever after” … That’s a rough one! Who knew Hallmark got into that kind of market…. kinda funny, kinda sad!

  5. How cute!! I have an almost three year old and a 4.5 year old, I may have to test them!! I’m pretty sure my 4.5 year old will sit there. My almost two year old might wait, however, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t stay on the couch. I’m going to guess she will touch the treat while she waits. I’ll let you know!

  6. I think this experiment is so fascinating! I have to say that learning about this experiment was one of the few things I remember from my freshman Intro to Psych. class (it was at 8am!). I know my 2.5 year old would react exactly like Ali did in the first video too (no need to even try it with him! ha!).

  7. Now…set your timer and test the second born child at 4 years old….curious to see if there is a difference in first borns and second borns…..just wonderin’

  8. I think she gets bonus points for sitting on the couch! I need to try this with K although I think the results might be a bit skewed b/c we do this as an acitivity already. I line up a row on m&m’s and set the oven timer for 4 minutes. If she moves or talks I take an m&m away. We call it self control time. She is such a hyper monkey I needed to teach her how to sit still. She used to get them taken away a lot but now she will sit still the entire time without moving or talking.

    1. That does sound like good practice! Noah may need that kind of training, but Ali doesn’t – she’s just naturally (and oddly) calm…

  9. I love that she pointed out that you counted wrong and the way she crossed and uncrossed her leg and wiggled but sat right there.

  10. I remember this experiment! I wanted to try this with my son, but I have a feeling he would fail miserably because the boy has zero patience! LOL

  11. I tried it (he’ll be 3 in August). He did it but I didn’t make him wait very long…maybe a minute or so and he was fingering the M&Ms and calling, “MOM! MOM!” the whole time. I should have videotaped it. :) I like the idea of using it to develop self control…I was surprised he made it and would like to see him make it longer…we’re already working on not interrupting or talking while I’m on the phone and not crying in the car…it would fit right in!

    1. That’s awesome!! I don’t think I could have resisted temptation if I’d actually been TOUCHING the chocolate… that’s pretty good!

  12. She is sooooo cute! How old is she? Let me see, my son Peter is 7, so I say if we get together sometime when they’re in their teens maybe we can work out a sneaky arranged marriage sort of thing. We’d be the perfect inlaws! You can pick out my jeans for me and I can keep your houseplants alive! :)

  13. That is too cute! Though I think the real answer was one can wait for jelly beans but NEVER for chocolate! :)
    I wanna try this with Wade {3} but I have a feeling he would NEVER make it. :) Gotta try to figure out how to set up my iphone to video!

  14. So, Luke saw me watching the experiment videos and he begged to do one. So I obliged, and did the experiment on Luke & Aubrey, Aubrey of course caved w/I seconds, but Luke didn’t touch the candy until I came back (but it was only 1 minute). He asked to do it again that afternoon, so I obliged again, this time I did it for 5 minutes…Luke convinced Aubrey not to touch the candy for the first 3 min or so, then she caved. Luke waited the whole 5 min, but when I came back 1 of his pieces of candy was gone, I watched the video & 5 seconds before the timer went off Aubrey convinced him to give her one of his pieces of candy :)
    If I ever had time to blog I’d post the videos, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon :)

  15. Ali was so cute in the video! She was really too young for the experiment but still she was patient and waited and listened what you told her! Th experiment was and it is a great idea to test children’s patience.

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