The Marshmallow Experiment
Good things come to those who wait
by Helen Gwynne-Kinsey
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to think about the importance and power of patience.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the YouTube video ‘The Marshmallow Experiment – Instant Gratification’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 4.42 minutes long, but you will only need to show a short extract up to 1.44 minutes. It is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo4WF3cSd9Q
- In 1972, a professor at Stanford University in the USA undertook research on the concept of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is the ability to wait for a period of time to get something that you really want.
To perform the research, the professor set up something that became known as the Stanford marshmallow experiment. Children were given one marshmallow and told that they could eat it straightaway if they wished. However, if they waited for a short time, they would be rewarded with an extra marshmallow when the adult came back into the room.
- Here’s how the experiment worked.
Show the YouTube video ‘The Marshmallow Experiment – Instant Gratification’ up to 1.44 minutes.
- Some of us might think that this experiment is rather cruel! The children are very young; how on earth could they be expected to wait?
Of course, holding out for one more marshmallow isn’t going to change the world, but if we look back in history, we can see examples of the power of patience and its ability to transform. One such event is Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.
- Shockingly, in the USA in the 1950s, racial segregation was the norm. According to local laws in the town of Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans were required to sit at the back of buses. If the white section at the front of the bus became full, African Americans had to give up their seats. However, one night, the bus grew full, and an African American woman called Rosa Parks was told to stand up and give her seat to a white man. She refused to move and was arrested.
Her actions led to the organization of a bus boycott by local civil rights leaders, later supported and spurred on by Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time, about three-quarters of the passengers on the Montgomery bus system were African Americans, and the leaders asked all of them to stop using the buses. The boycott did not bring immediate results, but required intense patience. It lasted for over a year until finally, the bus company was forced to change its policy.
Time for reflection
Patience is not something that we all possess naturally, but it is something that can be cultivated and improved upon. For example, if we practise making ourselves wait, we may find that we enjoy something even more because we have delayed it.
Patient people are usually more able to accept delays and deal with problems without losing their temper or becoming anxious. How much better would we all feel with less anger and worry in our lives?
We give thanks for those who, through the ages, have remained patient in order to bring about a greater good.
We also pray for those who have shown patience in their dealings with us throughout our lives: people who have given us their time and kindness, and who have stayed calm when we may not have truly deserved it.
Please help us to become better, more patient people who love others.