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The Marshmallow Test: What Does It Really Measure?

Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success. The marshmallow test isn’t the only experimental study that has recently failed to hold up under closer scrutiny. Some scholars and journalists have gone so far as to suggest that psychology is in the midst of a “replication crisis.” In the case of this new study, specifically, the failure to confirm old assumptions pointed to an important truth: that circumstances matter more in shaping children’s lives than Mischel and his colleagues seemed to appreciate. There’s plenty of other research that sheds further light on the class dimension of the marshmallow test.

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