Freitag, 01.03.2024 11:20 Uhr

Book review: The Marshmallow Test

Verantwortlicher Autor: Kurt Lehberger Frankfurt am Main, 31.12.2023, 15:10 Uhr
Presse-Ressort von: Kurt Lehberger Bericht 4458x gelesen

Frankfurt am Main [ENA] Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success? The book by Walter Mischel is a great book for all who want to grow and be a successful leader. It is well written and a real academic work referring university studies over nearly 50 years and it has a complete index, and the main sources are listed. In the academic world the test is varied but the core content is being the same: “The preschool self-imposed delay of immediate gratification for the sake of delayed but more valued rewards paradigm.” This statement is known as the “Marshmallow test”. The results are clear: those who had waited longer during the Marshmallow Test in preschool had a lower body mass index and a better sense of self-worth.

The Marshmallow test is long period study. Between 1968 and 1974 more than 550 children participated in the study and the 2014 they were in their forties and fifties. Therefore, the study results deliver important insights about the occupational, marital, physical, financial and mental health status. The hot and cool part of the brain. The hot part is characterized to be emotional, reflexive, unconscious while the cool part is being cognitive, reflective, slower, effortful. The cool part is named the frontal cortex brain area and is responsible for the high delayers. The low delayers actions were stem from the dominance of the ventral striatum located in the deeper part of the brain. Here the desire, pleasure and addictions are nurtured.

What happens during the waiting time? The situations are very different. Many seem to be apparently distressed and howling for help and do nothing. Others are looking around or playing with their fingers or toes or even take a nap. Others were talking silently to themselves. They are being successful with applying strategies for distraction and confirming themselves that it is worth to wait. The transformed the aversive situation by inventing games, imaginations, fun distractions to gain the needed willpower to resist the temptation. Asking the probands about their waiting strategies the winners were thinking about fun things and remain happy.

On the other hand, the sad children were not capable to have funny thoughts they are more discouraged and have bad thoughts. Generally, happy people have more power to delay and win the greater gratification than sad or depressed people. But there is always a chance to steer the behavior. The human being can exert self-control and escape from being victims of the hot stimuli. They can transform the hot stimuli and cool the impact by cognitive reassessment. The real thing is to have the conditions right. The power is the mental muscle. The prefrontal cortex activates the means to cool the system and weakens the hot stimuli. The changing of conditions and reassessment the situation comes from the cool part of the brain.

The sweet marshmallow becoming just pictures in their brains no more the real sweeties. The temptation is diminished and goal to wait for the bigger reward is coming true. The strategy and the capability to influence the imagination set the power free and resist and cool your brain. Looking further in the limbic system, the amygdala is the area of the brain which is responsible for feelings of hunger, fear, sex and anger. The activation of the hot system is triggered by such human basic feelings. Hunger is resolved by immediate eating, fear by fighting or refuge and sex by satisfaction. The hot system works like the “es” by Freud, the unconscious part of the brain which operates automatically and quickly trigger the consumptive behavior

Addictions, violence and impulsive behavior are some sort of testimony of the aggressive impulses stemming from the hot system. High stress amplifies the hot system. It makes the self-control worse if you need it most. The cool system, the contrary part sitting in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), interacts with the hot system. The properties are cognitive, complex, reflective and slower to activate. The impact of the activation is the self-control. Immediate rewards in front of you activate the hot system. It attracts you and discounts the value which you will get later if you can restrain. The drivers are smell, sound, taste, sight, touch, and what we can perceive by our senses.

The sirens were so delightful and irresistible that the sailors were drown. In our world full of temptations, it is obvious that some stupid decision has been made by politicians and executives overlooking the delayed consequences when quick wins lure. The higher value reward which is coming visible later is the result of the activation of the cool system. It takes longer to respond but the answer is thoughtful, more rational, considering the complex situation and a problem-solving approach. The ability to cool down makes us distinctively human beings. The capacity of abstract thinking, world context reasoning and future planning that we achieve with the activation of the prefrontal brain determines our human behavior.

We are in a steady competition of the hot and the cool system. We are both the grasshopper which can indulge and have fun and the cool man who is leaded by the rationale and conduct a moderate life. A large part of the book is devoted to the question: is it nature or is it nurture. The discussion is whether we are influenced more by genetic than by environment or vice versa. Twin studies reveal that we are biological creatures and are pre-wired so that nature matters but on the other hand nurture, the environment we are living in, matters as well. During the course of life, both determinants matter and the whole system is complex, and the result is the interplay of both the generic and the environments influences.

Studies show that even traits like intelligence have large genetic determinants, but they are still substantially malleable. A predisposition is not a predetermination. This insight raises hope. We get the example of Georg who get the chance to go to the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school and succeeded in getting his bachelor degree. Hard work and the “sitzfleisch” are the key success factors. Additionally, the optimists saw their success in their capability while the pessimists saw their success more outside their capabilities. The optimist therefore coped with failures constructively while the pessimist let it as it is and failed to retry it.

This condition results in a virtuous cycle for the ones and in vicious cycle for the others. About the future and planning capacity there are differences between people who live just in the present and not seeing themselves in the future and the people who have some overlap in the present self and the future self. The latter have more capacity to delay the rewards for a greater reward in the future. Those who saw their future self at the present have a stronger preference to save more money for the future than the those who saw just their current self. People who are more disconnected from their future self are more suitable to tolerate unethical business decisions. The imagination matters.

If you have to make a difficult decision you can simulate the events as vividly as possible. Pre-living scenarios are a great help for many situations. If you have taken the decisions to take a test is might be worthful to imagine the different test outcomes in advance. The hot role-play experience gives the participants the emotional preview and with it the cognitive information to make a truly informed decision. If nothing you can do to reduce the stress sometimes less information and monitoring is better than to much information. To be self distanced might help if you look back to assess the situation. The question could be how you describe the situation as you were the fly on the wall.

This awakens the cooling effect and is healthier and you feel better than before. Looking at a picture of the person of whom you feel rejection pain, is not helpful but to think about other people you are attached to is more helpful. We need a high degree in self-regard and self-enhancement. “If one of us should die, I shall move to Paris…” by Freud. The kind of inflation in self-evaluation is healthy because this prevent most people from being depressed. People react differently. They have something like a profile a stable If-then behavioral signatures. The success factor is to map the hot spots and cope with the aggressive tendencies.

If you can coach people to overcome their bad experience of one or some of their hot spots, they can improve the quality of their whole lives. We are both ants and grasshopper. The art is to find the best interacting between both systems the cool and the hot, the lust indulging grasshopper life and the always busy and future orientated ant live. Tip: applying if-then implementation plans to succeed in personal changes of bad behaviors. The hard part is maintaining the change over time. You need to enhanced self-control and self- confidence. Be an optimist! Learn to develop the ability to wait – then you have the choice… between one or more marshmallows!

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