Columbia psychology professor Thesis



DON’T! Lehrer, Jonah . The New Yorker ; New York  Vol. 85, Iss. 14,  (May 18, 2009): 26.

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ABSTRACT Columbia psychology professor Walter Mischel is profiled. In the 1960s, Mischel and colleagues performed an

experiment designed to explore why some children are able to delay gratification and others can’t. Now subjects

from that experiment are being asked to return for functional MRI studies, in the hope that the neurology of self-

control may be mapped. FULL TEXT

In the late nineteen-sixties, Carolyn Weisz, a four-year-old with long brown hair, was invited into a “game room” at

the Bing Nursery School, on the campus of Stanford University. The room was little more than a large closet,

containing a desk and a chair. Carolyn was asked to sit down in the chair and pick a treat from a tray of

marshmallows, cookies, and pretzel sticks. Carolyn chose the marshmallow. Although she’s now forty-four, Carolyn

still has a weakness for those air-puffed balls of corn syrup and gelatine. “I know I shouldn’t like them,” she says.

“But they’re just so delicious!” A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow

right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows

when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and

she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room.


Although Carolyn has no direct memory of the experiment, and the scientists would not release any information

about the subjects, she strongly suspects that she was able to delay gratification. “I’ve always been really good at

waiting,” Carolyn told me. “If you give me a challenge or a task, then I’m going to find a way to do it, even if it means

not eating my favorite food.” Her mother, Karen Sortino, is still more certain: “Even as a young kid, Carolyn was very

patient. I’m sure she would have waited.” But her brother Craig, who also took part in the experiment, displayed less