Modeling the Marshmallow Test

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Human instincts, appetites, or urges are complex aspects of human anatomy that cannot be understood in a simple way. This is focused on the efforts of researchers and practitioners in various fields to clarify the process that acts to affect the manner in which the balance between external influence and the internal regulator or behavioral homeostasis has been seen. Lauren Slater aims to synthesize the psychoanalytical studies that have been carried out to explain the regulatory effects on individual desires and the sense of self-regulation. Slater explores the experiments and discusses them within the lenses of B. F. Skinner's way of raising her child in a Skinner box. In the pioneering chapter of the book Slater starts by depicting the life of B. F. Skinner and showing the motivations behind Skinner’s research. A research that is based on the Skinner box is behavioral in nature. This is use of various methods such as introspection to study the mental influences on human behavior. Referring to it as mental is to also appreciate that there are perceptive variables that have a bearing on how humans behave. The perceptive variables are found in the environment of a person and which can be rewards or punishment. This study will explain the Marshmallow Test and its implication on behavior regulation based on Slater’s analysis of the mystery of B. F. Skinner and his daughter.

Slater in the first chapter explains that Skinner’s experiment demonstrated that use of rewards as opposed to punishment was more effective in triggering a desired behavior. Slater’s experiments are understood in light of Skinner’s experiment that is the focal point of her book and as the lenses for analyzing other tests. Skinner used rewards to reinforce an already displayed behavior rather than trigger it. Repetition of the behavior or how it is elicited is operant. A bird for instance that Skinner worked with first had to operate within the box until it presses the lever before a reward would be issued. It had to operate and press the lever again and again which releases a reward each time (Slater 12). This goes on until the bird associates pressing the lever with being rewarded. The marshmallow test also uses a similar reward system but in this case to see the effect of delayed gratification. The subjects in the marshmallow test are prompted by knowledge that there is a reward, a smaller one that is immediate and a bigger one if they forfeit the immediately available one and wait. Using the Skinner test, we see that using rewards, people or subjects can be prompted to do what it can take to get rewarded. The bird will keep on pressing the lever that relates to a reward and for the marshmallow test, according to Mischel Walter, the question is whether the children are able to regulate themselves and await the bigger and more significant reward.

Slater shows however that a reward that is irregularly offered can lead to a higher amount of commitment as was observed by Skinner. This taps into the question of intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to when a behavior emanates from internal drives of a person. This leads to self-regulation since rewards, while effective, can have a diminishing effect on motivation (Bennett 1). This is the reason why the marshmallow test presented two sets of children. One set of children could not control their appetite for the marshmallow. They therefore are generally incapable of self-regulation. These group will always rely on instant gratification for them to elicit the behavior they require. When such reward is absent, they lack the drive to elicit desired behavior. In life, such persons do not see the bigger purpose in making sacrifices (Akst 103). They would rather study because of the trip to the game park than study because if they pass they will get an opportunity to study in their university of choice years to come. The children who fall for immediate gratification as in the marshmallow test are the ones who considering the skinner box can only display desired behavior repeatedly if every time there is a reward that is forth coming. However, it is necessary to vary the intervals of presentation of the reward to augment the development of self-regulation. In the Skinner box, the bird does not know when the reward will come again. It therefore keeps trying and touching in different paces until it again presses on the lever and then it receives the reward. If the reward was to be presented continuously, the bird would not have to be committed to try and display the required behavior.

Slater uses an example of a mean boyfriend whom a girl may not leave. This is as long as on occasion; the boy calls and is nice to the girl. The girl may hang on the hope that even if the boy has not called yet, he will someday (Slater 12). In the perspective of the marshmallow test, the girl would choose the easier option of finding a more generous and nice boy who is there all the time. These are the ones who seek immediate gratification, who eat the immediately available marshmallows instead of waiting. However, unpredictability has the power of raising anticipation and hence calling on the person to exercise discipline for the promised. Being unpredictable calls on those who are capable to step up and take charge of their own whims and self-direct (Akst 108). A person operates in the environment by themselves with eyes fixed on what is the bigger reward that is to come later.

Slater’s analysis of the Skinner box can help explain the conclusions that were posited by the marshmallow test. According to Mischel Walter et al., the test depicts that the ability to resist eating the first immediate treat is an indication of potential to attain higher S.A.T scores and increases the chances of having lower body mass index (BMI) (253). This is true since the primary distractions to goals in life are based on giving in to impulses. In the Skinner box, the bird does not just sit back and wait for the reward or food. It moves about, nibbles and knocks things around. It does what must be done to eventually press on the lever for the reward - so does the process of delayed gratification show. That to attain the core goals of life, a person should do what it takes even if it means foregoing food, hobbies or other impulsive actions. In fact, the reward is only supposed to be a trigger of the internal capabilities of a person to be focused on what is important.

Achievements in life do not come easy and this requires a person to be self—motivated. The effort is supposed to be emphasized more than the emphasis on the reward. The process and what it takes should hold precedence over the benefits because in the end, there should be no gain without pain. The marshmallow test shows the fact that the reward is only a test of what a person is focused on. It shows what people are made of and in the presence of immediate gratification; the true nature of a person in terms of self-regulation comes out (Bennett 1). Focus is more on the attributes of the person regarding mastering impulses than on the reward in eliciting a certain behavior (Mischel et al. 255). When a challenge is presented, a person should not merely react in the predicted way but instead should assess themselves in terms of what they need and what they should do. For the Skinner box, the bird should keep operating in the box in the hope and not sureness of being rewarded. This, bolsters self-regulation and calls intrinsic motivation to use more than extrinsic motivation.

The ability to self-regulate is associated with higher success in adult life. This is well founded in the conventional processes of achievement in life. Self-regulation is associated with determination, focus and ability to be undeterred by challenges. Initiative taking is a pointer to the ability of a person to take responsibility for his life and actions. This is not by simply conforming to forces in the environment in which a person lives but realizing that the most important goals in life require someone to forego early gratification. The Skinner box experiment is the foundation of intrinsic motivation where external rewards only come in the process of a person chasing goals by themselves with conviction. Such a person is better able to perceive some types of gratification impulses as not being good for their efforts to achieve (Bucciol et al. 129). The person is therefore more patient, can stave adversity more and has the stamina to overcome frustrations. They do not give up merely because things are not working in their favor but instead are fixated on the success that can come if they stay course as is explained by Bennett Drake (1). That is the nature of the persistent bird in the Skinner box that even in the absence of reward keeps doing what it should do in the box until by good chance, it presses on the correct button and the reward comes.

The eating impulse is one that humans are most vulnerable to. When, as a child, one does not develop ability to regulate it, appetite for favorite foods becomes insatiable. This reflects in the alarming rates of obesity in modern day and the popularity of fast foods. Achieving fitness is delayed gratification that many people do not manage to pursue as they often fall for immediate gratification by eating fast foods that are mostly junk and high in cholesterol on impulse (Bucciol et al. 129). This is the reason why the marshmallow test associates delayed gratification with lower BMI in later life. Conversely, immediate gratification is associated with higher obesity as people cannot master their appetites.

The marshmallow test has analytical depiction of the perceptive, mental and behavior connections based on the internal and external forces that a person experiences. The experiment shows how ability to self-regulate can be determinant of various adulthood success indicators of a good life. Slater explains how human appetites can be exploited to motivate exhibition of desired behavior. However, this should be carefully used based on what it can do to the ability of people to self-regulate as it can undermine intrinsic motivation.

Works Cited

Akst, Daniel.We have met the enemy: Self-control in an age of excess. Scribe Publications, 2011.

Bennett, Drake. "What does the marshmallow test actually test."Retrieved (2017 May 9th) from: http://www. businessweek. com/articles/2012–10–17/whatdoes-the-marshmallow-test-actually-test(2012).

Bucciol, Alessandro, Daniel Houser, and Marco Piovesan. "Temptation and productivity: A field experiment with children."Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization78.1 (2011): 126-136.

Mischel, Walter, et al. "‘Willpower’over the life span: decomposing self-regulation."Social cognitive and affective neuroscience6.2 (2011): 252-256.

Mischel, Walter.The marshmallow test: understanding self-control and how to master it. Random House, 2014.

Slater, Lauren.Opening Skinner's box: Great psychological experiments of the twentieth century. WW Norton & Company, 2005.

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