Jun 2, 2008

The marshmallow experiment - a merl post

I've used this as a lesson theme several times in Childrens Church over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me at how key this concept is. In thinking about "wisdom" and what that is exactly, I think more and more that wisdom in it's distilled essence is the ability to choose the long term benefit when faced with a short-term/long-term decision.

From the wiki:
The marshmallow experiment is a famous test of this concept conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University and discussed by Daniel Goleman in his popular work. In the 1960s a group of four-year olds were tested by being given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.[2]
Here's some decisions:
a. Wanna buy those shoes or save for your retirement?
b. Have a trip around the world or pay off the mortgage?
c. Go out with someone 'exciting', or pick a life mate you want to live with when you're 70?
d. Cut you arms with a knife or go into rehab for your drug addiction?
e. Give your kids a playstation, or plan out a set of activities that interests them through the day?
f. Eat some chocolate, or go for a jog? (....)

The list goes on and on. (I still think thinking you will want to live with someone when you're 70 is a good mate selection criteria).

Not everything is long term though. You still have to live your life on day at a time. My grandmother scrimped all the way through her life and was then horrified to find that late in life both she and her husband needed medical care with the first $660 per week unsubsidised. So she watched $30K of life saving per year evapourate in medical care that she had thought her whole life that the goverment would provide for. There's no point in denying ourselves completely now for a future that may not turn out the way we are expecting it to. We have to live our lives now.

But somehow these 'moist robot' bodies we find ourselves encased in seem much better at preferring the short term solution, even when it's not to our benefit (want that sofa? get it on Hire Purchase now!). Anyway, hope this isn't too preachy.


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