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Marshmallow Test Pioneer Walter Mischel Passes Away At 88

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Walter Mischel, the psychologist most known for formulating the Marshmallow Test, has passed away. He was 88 years old.

Walter Mischel Dead At 88

The author and university professor died in his home in Manhattan on Wednesday, Sept. 12, surrounded by family. His daughter, Linda Mischel Eisner, confirmed that news and divulged that pancreatic cancer was the cause of his death. He was survived by his wife, three daughters, and grandchildren.

"Walter was a living legend in psychology yet a humble mentor and colleague," stated Chair of Columbia University's Department of Psychology, Carl Hart. "We will miss him dearly."

The Marshmallow Test

Dr. Mischel's landmark behavioral study, the Marshmallow Test, was published in 1990 and involved children aged 4 to 6 years old. The psychologist and his team of researchers gave each child a marshmallow with the option to eat it right away or wait a few minutes to get a second marshmallow as a reward.

He then left the children in a room with a camera and monitored them. Some ate the marshmallow right away while others cheated by licking the food or taking small bites on the edges hoping that the researchers will not notice.

One-third of the children held out long enough (15 minutes) to earn the second marshmallow.

Years later, Dr. Mischel revisited the children involved in the experiment to see how they are doing. He found that there is a strong correlation between the children's ability to delay gratification and their success later in life.

Many have tried and recreate the study over the years to varied results. More recently, researchers from New York University and the University of California, Irving redid the experiment and published their discovery on Sage Journals in May 2018.

The new study involved children whose mothers did not finish college but, otherwise, the experiment stayed the same. They were all given a marshmallow with the option to eat it right away or wait a few more minutes to get a reward. They failed to garner the same results especially after factoring their parents' socioeconomic status.

However, Dr. Mischel was first to caution about wrongfully interpreting the results of his infamous study. In an interview with PBS in 2015, he iterated that children who choose to eat the marshmallow immediately are not doomed to be failures later in life.

 

"For us in the field, that paper was perhaps his biggest contribution," stated Brent Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. "Dr. Mischel was one of the central pillars of the entire personality field for the last 50 years."

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