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In my last blog, I reviewed studies from the late 60s showing how 4 year olds who resisted eating one marshmallow if they waited 15 minutes were more successful as adults in many areas compared to children who ate one marshmallow within a few minutes.

A recent study asked the question: is this type of willpower inborn (nature) or learned (nurture)?  Researchers gave 3-5 year olds (Group 1) some crayons and paper and told them if they waited, the researcher would return with better crayons.  After 2 1/2 minutes, the researcher returned with an apology saying he couldn’t find better crayons. The children were asked to draw with the original crayons.
Next, these same kids were given a sticker and told if they waited before putting it on their clothes or hand, a larger selection of better stickers would be brought.  Again, the researcher came back with an apology.

Another group (Group 2) of children experienced researchers who kept their promises in both situations.

Both groups then completed the marshmallow task. A marshmallow was put in front of each child and he/she was told if he waited to eat it until the researcher came back, he/she would get two marshmallows to eat. After 15 minutes, the researcher returned with the extra marshmallows.

Children in Group 1 waited only 3 minutes before eating their marshmallow. Children in Group 2 waited 12 minutes – 4 times as long. The study’s conclusion was that children made rational decisions about the probability of a reward based on their experiences with the other two “promises”. The researchers believe this shows young children can learn the benefits of self-control and willpower which supports a nurture theory.