Was the Marshmallow Experiment Debunked?

Was the original marshmallow test study debunked?

My last video that mentioned it had a few people commenting, and many claiming that the latest research showed that all it measured was weather the kid taking it came from a wealthy home. Their evidence? Articles like this one from the Atlantic. Which you’d think would be trustworthy. But let’s take a looksie.

Title?: Clickbait

Content: They say that in this new 2018 study, the researchers “restaged” the classic marshmallow test. They “administered the test” and then tracked down the kids years later to see how they did in school.

BUT, as scientists we like to read the original research.

Here’s the paper.

They USED DATA From the Blah blah blah Study of Yada yada

No “restaging.” Just reanalysis of someone else’s data. WHICH, unlike the original test which had the kids wait for up to 15 minutes, this time it only measured 7 minutes. And More than HALF of the kids hit that 7-minute mark, which the researchers said made a lot of the calculations less reliable, and therefore "we consider our study to be a conceptual, rather than traditional, replication” of that original study.

And they state late that these issues “render it impossible to provide a definitive answer to whether the relation between early delay ability and later achievement differs by SES.”

So CUT it with the clickbait!

But what did this study show? They found that the same relationship existed between performance on the mashmallow test and later grades in school, but the correlation was half as strong as the orignal study.

Then, when they controlled for 30 variables of home and family background, the relationship was still significant, but smaller, and only when they also controlled for a bunch of other measures of cognitive function and behavior did the marshmallow test just barely lose significance.

And overall, the strongest predictor of performance on the marshmallow test was not family income, instead it was the child’s cognitive capacity.

So. Of COURSE family background matters. And helping to improve children’s home environment and economic situation is one of the best ways to help their lifelong prospects.

And no, the marshmallow test can’t be taken in a vacuum. But saying that it predicts nothing after controlling for all of those variables is like saying that how much you can bench press predicts nothing about how many pullups you can do. Once you control for socioeconomic background, grit, and how much you can curl.