Is The Marshmallow Test Relevant In The Age of Instagram and Twitter?

Adebayo Adeniran
4 min readDec 30, 2021

Isn’t it time to consign this antiquated experiment to the dustbin of history?

Eiliv-Sonas Aceron via Unsplash

Walter Mischel is a world renowned psychologist.

His marshmallow experiment has been repeated all around the world and one that is usually quoted by psychologists and non psychologists alike.

What exactly is the marshmallow test?

Walter Mischel devised an experiment in which three to five year old kids were placed in a room, all by themselves, with their favourite snack — marshmallow, a pretzel stick or any other type of candy and told them that if they could resist eating the candies for a few minutes, they would get to receive more treats.

According to Mischel, the child’s ability to delay gratification is inextricably linked to his or her IQ score and more importantly, their life outcomes.

For these guinea pigs (children) who resisted the urge to consume the marshmallow, they were found to have higher IQs, less body fat, much less likely to go to jail and those who immediately helped themselves to the candy were found to have dropped out of school, had more body fat, went to jail and generally did worse in life.

Given the incredible power that this psychological experiment has had over policy makers and opinion shapers for the last fifty years, it has been used to justify demonizing the poor (think of the term welfare queen) and the right wing economic ideas which have wreaked havoc in western societies.

But one wonders if this test would be relevant in our time?

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Reddit, TikTok, Netflix and Club House have emerged as the dominant forces of our lives in the twenty-first century.

Their algorithms have completely changed and shaped the way we think about the world and ourselves in a very short space of time.

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Adebayo Adeniran

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on as many subjects as possible