It seems that once upon a time (probably in the 1980's) a group of reseachers got together and speculated on the human ability to sacrifice pleasure in the present for greater pleasure in the future. For example: using human-edible bait to lure greater prey, opening savings accounts, etc. The question was: Is this ability in-born, or is it learned?

To answer the question, they conducted a series of experiements. One of these was presenting a small child with the following dilemma:

Here is a marshmallow. You can take it and eat it. But, if you don't eat it, I'll give you another marshmallow in a while.

The results of the tests were inconclusive. But either way, that one test gave rise to the concept of a 2-marshmallow person and (of course) the 1-marshmallow person. The first being a person who was willing to wait for greater gains, while the latter was a person seeking quick satifaction, regardless of possible future loss.

The reason these tests were inconclusive is likely because young children do not have a concrete conception of time. A young child can understand little difference in meaning between 'ten minutes' and 'ten hours', and so the child will take the marshmallow or whatever else is being offered, rather than wait for a period of time that they cannot fathom.

This changes somewhere between the ages of 5 and 6, depending on the child. TLC ran a special series about childhood last week that talked about this, among many other intriguing facets of development.

Of course, the original concept of this node still holds. It's often quite easy to differentiate between 1- and 2-marshmallow individuals. As a result of experience (and hell, maybe a little genetics thrown in there too), some of us come to see that ten minute wait for the second marshmallow as a positive thing, well others see it as a profoundly negative experience. Sadly, it seems that in the West, this later category, concerned only with instant gratification, has become the dominant one.

Though DejaMorgana’s write up seems to be written for more of a comedic sense, the black and white concept of the either 1-marshmallow or 2-mashmallow person is flawed, because it has left out the various shades of gray that are caused by the complexity of human emotion. My understanding of humans has lead me to these categories for the 2-marshmallow person, depending on the assumption that all of the marshmallows are identical.

Type A - The person has waited for their second marshmallow, and is happy with the result.
Type B - The person has waited for their second marshmallow, but is frustrated with the result. There are more productive ways to spend ten minutes.
Type C - The person has waited for their second marshmallow, but is frustrated with the result. The first marshmallow was unique. This rarity gave it more, and the impending consumption would be more pleasurable. But with the introduction of the second marshmallow, the first loses a bit of its value, and equally the second is even less valuable than the first.
Type D - The person has never had a marshmallow before, but quickly finds out that the odd taste and consistency of marshmallows is displeasing to them, and so they don’t eat the second. This person will immediately turn into a Type B.

The conclusion from these different categories is not really much different than studying the first set. Humans can react differently given a situation. The same human may react differently with each trial as well.

Personally I would probably have been a Type A at first, but within a few minutes would have become a Type B realizing I could have had my first marshmallow and gone on with my life.

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