The Marshmallow Test

This is a fascinating experiment. Such a simple thing to ask yet so difficult to accomplish.

There are many times I wonder if I’m in some sort of hidden camera experiment and people are watching to see what I’ll do.

Like the other day at the grocery store. Were they ignoring me at the seafood counter on purpose to see how long I’d wait while they went about their business which didn’t seem to include selling me salmon?

Or are there cameras hidden around my house so my family can have a great big guffaw watching me sneak olives out of a tall jar with my short fingers? It probably wouldn’t even make them giggle since they’ve seen worse. Much worse. And if they did giggle? I’d just say, “What are you giggling at?” with my mouth crammed full of olives. Of course, it would come out, “Mrphhpwicka?” but still, it would show ’em.

So watch The Marshmallow Test and try to picture what you would have done when you were a kid. I particularly love the girl who mugs for the “hidden” camera.

What would be a good hidden camera experiment for adults?

8 thoughts on “The Marshmallow Test”

  1. I wasn’t this young, but I was actually part of something like this when I was eight or nine. No cameras were present, as far as I know. My best friend and I were told that we were going to go do something fun, and my parents took us to the Claremont Colleges to some building. We were taken into a room with what I know now was a big two-way mirror. There was a table, and the tabletop was divided by a hollow, vertical plexiglas window full of M&Ms. My friend and I sat on opposite sides, with a cup, and we were left alone.

    Obviously some grad student, my parents and who-knows-who-else were watching through the mirror. There was some sort of control mechanism on the table. Neither of us can remember what kind now. Maybe three buttons to push, or three holes into which we had to stick an electric stylus. In order to get the M&Ms, we had to work together pushing buttons. So we would try both pushing the first one at the same time, and we would get M&Ms out the little spout into our cups. We’d do it again and it wouldn’t work, so we would try pushing the second one, etc.

    Each time the combo would work and then stop working, forcing us to decide what combo to try next. Again and again. We each eventually got full cups of M&Ms and, after an hour or so, got bored with it and started wandering around the room, peeking out the door to see if anyone was coming for us, and so on. Finally we were released. We never knew it was an experiment. We didn’t know what it was, but it was fun, and normally I didn’t get much candy. I saw Alex, the other boy, at my 30 year high school reunion two weeks ago, and we laughed about it. We have this weird history together which no one else at school had. The M&M lab rats. Probably somewhere there is an academic paper about us.

  2. Sit them in front of an iPhone and tell them they can keep it if they can refrain from touching it for an hour. Or sit them in front of thier own phones and tell them they can have a new phone of their choice if they can refrain from checking voicemail, email, or answering/making calls for an hour. 🙂

    1. George … your parents had interesting friends and activities. I’m glad your friend has a similar memory. Otherwise I can see the fuzziness clouding everything … although that would make a fabulously entertaining “memoir.” Does your mom remember this incident?

      Deb … I could totally win a new iPhone that way. I tend to stare at new technology until someone explains it to me. I had my cell phone for two years before I realized it had a camera on it.

      Can I have some M&Ms too?

  3. Yes, it really happened. I just called my mom to ask how they chose me and Alex, and she seemed to think that the college people came to our elementary school to find two kids. She remembers that I ate so many M&Ms I didn’t want any more, which was a first for me.

  4. What about a grocery store/salmon test (or restaurant or any shop)? Adults who are not receiving the service they expect might politely or slightly less politely try to get attention, walk away, or have a screaming meltdown. We would learn a lot about who they are in the greater scheme of things. Ooh, we could the clerks respond in various ways too.

    On George’s note from way back when, I also did some sort of grad student study when I was in 4th grade or so. The questions were more about right/wrong, but I don’t remember exactly. For whatever reason, I can picture the room, probably because it was a teacher room where kids weren’t allowed.

  5. Vicki … I don’t know what a salmon test might consist of, but your idea is sound. Sometimes I do have interactions that are so unreal and ridiculous I think maybe I’m on Candid Camera. We could also have someone get a terrible haircut and see what happens.

    I recently heard an actor say he always goes out to eat with people he’s considering working with, because he wants to see how they treat the waitstaff. And there’s that old adage about going golfing with someone to see their true personality.

  6. Three things to look for when picked a mate: How they treat their mother; how they treat waitstaff; and how they deal with tangled Christmas lights. If you think about it, you can learn a lot about someone this way.

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