Does early self-control determine a child’s future success?

If so, can self-control be taught?

When I read that The Marshmallow Experiment was replicated yet again, it got me thinking about why this is.

The Marshmallow experiment is one of the most famous social science experiments. The first time this experiment was carried out was in 1960, by a professor at Stanford University.

In this experiment, young children were offered a marshmallow to immediately consume or 2 marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. The results were then linked to educational attainment, higher SAT’s scores and even lower BMI. In other words, the children who were able to wait for the 2 marshmallows generally did better in later life.

This would suggest that behaviours such as self-control cannot be taught. If you extend that to education, does it mean that every child is born only with fixed traits in learning?

This experiment has been replicated with some sort of twists over the years. Almost all of them have drawn different conclusions from the original.

 

The Marshmallow experiment has been repeated yet again, this time to test results looking at social and economic conditions, and this time, the conclusion is that children from poorer backgrounds fared worse.

Yet in another very similar experiment, Cameroonian children showed that they waited twice as long and complained a lot less.

To my mind that puts the social equality theory into question.

Also, what if the child does not like marshmallows, or they simply think that two marshmallows are not worth the wait, and they may have waited if there were more?

I would also say that this has not taken into account the massive impact of things like social media and the internet. It also does not take into account the differing personalities of each child.

Young children are said to be impulsive and to live in the present moment, with no concept of the future. To add insult to injury, children are said to grow up with a sense of entitlement and the need for instant reward. There is the perception that the more technology reliant a child is, the shorter the attention span.

If we extend this to academic success, does it mean that this will lead to poorer grades in school?

 

Across my many years of tutoring, I have seen and worked with children who had set their goals and were determined to achieve them- whatever it took, while others were simply happy to coast. Some children are simply not academically inclined.

As a tutor, I believe that whilst self-control is important, determination is equally as important, if not more so. This along with guidance and practice is surely the key for any achievement, academic or otherwise.

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