In a delayed-gratification experiment, kids were given a choice: Eat one marshmallow now, or wait fifteen minutes and receive two marshmallows. On follow up, kids who waited fifteen minutes for two marshmallows went on to obtain higher SAT scores, more respect in adolescence, and higher educational status.
In a follow-up experiment, we told kids that they would get one additional marshmallow for every fifteen minutes they waited. Some kids waited fifteen minutes. Others waited thirty. Some kids waited for three, four hours. We fed them meals throughout the day as per university regulations, but after seven days our budget for that sort of thing ran out. To our astonishment, a small minority of kids continued to wait. After five days with no food, their skin turned yellow. One boy’s molars fell out.
After two weeks with no food, the vast majority of kids were unable to form coherent sentences. One girl ate her socks and experienced severe gastroenterological discomfort. She declined to leave the room for medical treatment, instead opting for open abdominal surgery at her desk.
After three weeks, the kids’ parents threatened to sue the research team, including the parents of the girl who underwent surgery, which was pretty upsetting since we had expended considerable effort to accommodate her with the whole surgery thing. One colleague, who was a test administrator, quit after a mother hit her with a skillet. Other parents came in and just sobbed every day. To our surprise, watching kids sit in a room and devour their own insides also caused the researchers irreversible psychological damage. One colleague reported loss of appetite, fatigue, and night tremors. He wrote:
“I dreamt about children eating my corpse. They looked so happy. Why didn’t I study Computer Science?”
After fourteen years, the cut in NSF funding to Social Science meant we had to do the unthinkable: We had to go in and tell the kids they were not going to be getting any marshmallows at all. To our astonishment, upon hearing this news, a small minority of kids continued to wait. We attempted to forcibly remove them but were unable to separate them from their chairs. It turned out their hands had somehow undergone rigor mortis while still attached to their bodies. We noted their fingernails were quite long despite severe malnutrition. Their eyes were jaundiced and had a vacant expression. We theorized that these kids believed that this was a test, which if passed, would yield additional marshmallows. Most of the kids had lost all nerve connections throughout their gastrointestinal tract.
We noted that, early in the experiment, a small minority of the small minority of kids adopted a regular 7.5-hour sleep cycle with committed daily routine. Exercise in the morning, followed by meditation, followed by a “productive period” in which they drew pictures or wrote one-act plays, followed by more meditation. Most read at least one book per day and obtained nutrition from self-cultivated ant colonies. These students were statistically less likely to smell like rotten meat. One student was allowed to visit with teachers regularly throughout the experiment and passed the GED and later went on to write a PhD thesis on Faust.
On follow up, a majority of these kids went into consulting or finance. A small minority went into academia and joined departments of psychology. On the whole, some were successful and some were not.