The Marshmallow Test

There was a famous study in psychology called the marshmallow (or sometimes cookie) test. It worked like this: Preschool students (about five years old or so) were seated at a table with a marshmallow (or cookie). The authority figure (teacher or researcher) explained that she had to go out for a few minutes, and if the kid didn’t eat the marshmallow while she was gone she would give him a second marshmallow as a reward when she returned, but if he ate the marshmallow he would not be given another. Most kids are not good with delayed gratification, and quickly gobbled up their one and only marshmallow. But some kids had the willpower to wait and get the reward of a second treat! (I wish my investments could compound at such a rate!)

But there’s more to the story. The researchers followed up with the kids years later. Those who were able to delay gratification at the marshmallow table tended to be better off financially as adults. Delayed gratification works! Patience really does pay!

The study, though revealing, wasn’t exactly fair. Kids lack maturity and cannot be expected to display discipline or wisdom in the face of such overwhelming temptation. There is no reason an impulsive little tyke cannot learn to take today’s money and invest it for tomorrow’s consumption. But you’re (probably) not a little kid. Are you investing yet? What’s your excuse?

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