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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marshmallows And Drop Outs

What do marshmallows have to do with high school drop-outs?

My passion for reading, together with a thirst for knowledge that can leverage self-improvement, has introduced me to many great books. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson and colleagues, is one such work. The authors provide a number of important insights that offer advice on creating positive and constructive personal change.

Among the references used to substantiate the objectives and conclusions of the authors is an explanation of the marshmallow test conducted by Dr. Mischel of the Stanford University psychology department (on page 115). Rather than summarize the piece and potentially diminish the value of the thought provoking message, I am providing an excerpt from the book for your review.

"When 'Timmy,' age four, sat down at the gray metal table in an experiment room in the basement of Standford's psychology department, the child saw something that caught his interest. On the table was a marshmallow - the kind Timmy's mom put into his cup of hot chocolate. Timmy really wanted to eat the marshmallow.
The kindly man who brought Timmy into the room told him that he had two options. The man was going to step out for a moment. If Timmy wanted to eat the marshmallow, he could eat away. But if Timmy chose to wait a few minutes until the man returned, then Timmy could eat two marshmallows.
Then the man exited. Timmy stared at the tempting sugar treat, squirmed in his chair, kicked his feet, and in general tried to exercise self-control. If he could wait, he's get two marshmallows! But the temptation proved too strong for little Timmy, so he finally reached across the table, grabbed the marshmallow, looked around nervously, and then shoved the spongy treat in his mouth.
Actually, Timmy was one of dozens of subjects Dr. Mischel and his colleagues studied for more than four decades. Mischel was interested in learning what percentage of his young subjects could delay gratification and what impact, if any, this character trait would have on their adult lives. Michel's hypothesis was that children who were able to demonstrate self-control at a young age would enjoy greater success later in life because of that trait.
In this and many similar studies, Mischel followed the children into adulthood. He discovered that the ability to delay gratification had a more profound effect than they had originally predicted. Notwithstanding the fact that the researchers had watched the kids for only a few minutes, what they learned from the experiment was enormously telling. Children who had been able to wait for that second marshmallow matured into adults who were seen as more socially competent, self-assertive, dependable, and capable of dealing with frustrations; and they scored an average of 210 points higher on their Scholastic Aptitude Test than people who gulped down the one marshmallow. The predictive power was truly remarkable.
Companion studies conducted over the next decade with people of varying ages (including adults) confirmed that individuals who exercise self-control achieve better outcomes than people who don't. For example, if high schoolers are good at self-control, they experience fewer eating and drinking problems. University students with more self-control earn better grades, and married and working people have more fulfilling relationships and better careers. And, as you might expect, people who demonstrate low levels of self-control show higher levels of aggression, delinquency, health problems, and so forth."

The author went on to declare: "Delayers are simple more skilled at avoiding short-term temptations. They didn't merely avoid the temptation; they employed specific, learnable techniques that kept their attention off what would be merely short-term gratification and on their long-term goal of earning that second marshmallow."

Perseverance, determination, commitment, and the ability to delay gratification are just some of the character traits that prove helpful to those planning to meet with success in school and achieve at levels that will leverage a productive future. On the contrary, dropping out of school and cutting short one's education greatly inhibits prospects for the future. Let's look at a publication from McREl (Mid-Continental Regional Education Lab) entitled, Changing the Odds for Student Success: What Matters Most for a statistical description of the bleak road ahead for high school drop-outs.

Poverty rates of families headed by drop-outs are more than twice that of families headed by high school graduates.
A drop-out is more than 8 times as likely to be in jail or prison as a high school graduate and nearly 20 times as likely as a college graduate.
Over a lifetime, drop-outs earn $260,000 less than a high school graduate.
The Life expectancy for high school drop-outs is five years shorter than college graduates.

Dropping out of school is a classic example of making a decision that appears to benefit someone in the short-term by escaping a situation of dislike or discomfort and maybe even entering the job market while former classmates remain in school paying time and energy without deriving immediate gains or money. However, those quickly obtained benefits of relief or money evaporate in comparison with high school graduates in the long-term analysis as illustrated by the statistics outlined above. Self control and the willingness and ability to delay gratification are powerful personal strategies.

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