Yesterday we welcomed Angela Lee Duckworth, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and former GreatSchools COO, to share her wise and witty insights on self-discipline and academic achievement. Duckworth’s research delves into the findings of Walter Mischel, otherwise known as the grandfather of self-regulation psychology. Mischel designed a series of experiments in the 1960s nicknamed “the marshmallow tests,” which examined the correlation between delayed gratification and GPA.
One by one, Mischel tested the willpower of hundreds of four-year-olds by tempting them with a marshmallow treat and then followed the progress of each child into adolescence. Those who were capable of resisting the marshmallow predicted better competence in a variety of important outcomes, such as achieving higher SAT scores and being less susceptible to drug abuse.
Partnering with mission-driven education nonprofits such as KIPP and Teach for America, Duckworth is developing programs to apply Mischel’s research in a handful of schools. Her work will employ proven strategies that teach children to consciously self-regulate, including:
- Distraction, or when a child diverts his or her attention from the temptation.
- Cognitive transformation, or when a child views the temptation as unappealing — imagining the marshmallow is a cloud, for instance.
- Repetition of the contingency, or when a child vocalizes a self-regulating goal (“If I don’t eat the marshmallow now, I can have more later”).
- Recognition of the idiosyncratic nature of temptation — in other words, not every child is tempted by marshmallows!
Duckworth is not the only one trying to implement Mischel’s findings. The Educational Testing Service, an organization that prepares standardized tests, has established a new department focused on incorporating personality attributes like self-discipline and emotional intelligence into scholastic achievement tests.
Watch a video recreating Mischel's discoveries. What are your strategies for resisting temptation? Have you shared them with your child?