Book Review – The Marshmallow Test – Understanding Self Control

Walter Mischel is an eminent psychologist whose interests have ranged widely in his academic career from the development of personality to understanding self control and self regulation.

In this book he examines how we develop self control ( or not in some cases). In the 1960s he developed the ‘Marshmallow test’.

The Stanford marshmallow experiment: was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a young researcher at Stanford. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a Marshmallow but often a biscuit or pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes.

Mischel offers insights about how we develop self control ranging from evidence from biology and brain science to a focus on how we develop self control. Overall, the book has many useful insights into the development of self esteem and control. Mischel uses so many examples and insights from developmental psychology to understanding the flawed judgement of Bill Clinton. He rightly argues that people are context driven and inconsistent in their use of self control. This book is a good general read, but, if you are interested in how our brains process everyday information this is a must read

Andrew McDonnell, February 2016