This is what happened when psychologists gave toddlers a version of the classic Marshmallow Test

Posted on April 11, 2018

The study discovered that individual differences in self-control are already apparent at the tender age of 18 months. It also revealed how self-control develops through the second year of life, and the kind of toddler behaviours that were correlated with stronger willpower.

Marta Bialecka-Pikul and her colleagues at Jagiellonian University recruited hundreds of toddlers and their parents. At 18 months, the toddler sat on the laps of their parents with a popular treat in a plastic cup. The experimenter would leave for 60 seconds and parents were not allowed to intervene. At 24 months, the procedure was repeated, but the toddlers had to wait 90 seconds, and now the treat was tailored to their latest tastes, such as a jelly baby or chocolate.

At 18 months, 23 per cent of them successfully waited 60 seconds. At 24 months, 55 per cent of them successfully waited 90 seconds (it seems some toddlers are capable of greater willpower than adults). For the developmental aspect, it was found that most of the successful delayers at 24 months had failed to wait at the first test, suggesting they had acquired greater self-control over time.

The video taken during the experiment also shed light on 20 different types of behaviours, that can be grouped into four main categories: attentional and movement based; communication; focusing on or acting on the treat in some way; and non-specific, such as fidgeting and making noises. The “attention and movement” category of behaviours was most strongly correlated with successfully waiting for the treat, at both 18 months and 24 months.

Researchers therefore concluded, “It can be supposed that the increase in the ability to delay gratification was due to overcoming temptation by using an active strategy mainly based on the first signs of effortful attention.”


Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Research Digest


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