Want to teach your kids self-control? Ask a Cameroonian farmer – [US] National Public Radio

July 9, 2017

Africa, Other countries



Let’s ask what a classic test of child psychology shows in a different culture – a test of self-control which involves being presented with a tasty marshmallow, which you’re not supposed to eat. Researchers found a culture where kids demonstrate almost unbelievable self-control. Here’s NPR’s Micaeleen Doucleff.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: A well-known experiment psychologists use to study self-control in young kids is called the marshmallow experiment.



UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER: Yeah. So wait just a second. Let me explain.

DOUCLEFF: That’s a researcher at the University of Rochester running the experiment. She puts a marshmallow in front of a boy and then gives him a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED RESEARCHER: You can either eat this one marshmallow right now, or if you can wait for me to go get it from the other room, you can have two marshmallows instead.

DOUCLEFF: So if the kid has self-control and can delay gratification, he’ll get two marshmallows instead of just one.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You know what? It is snack time now.

DOUCLEFF: Scientists have run this experiment for decades. And typically, less than half the kids can wait for the second marshmallow. Studies suggest these kids are more likely to do better in school later on.



DOUCLEFF: Now for the first time, there’s a study looking at what happens when psychologists give this test to kids outside Western culture, specifically kids in rural Cameroon. They live in mud huts without electricity or running water and help out on the family farm. These kids, they rocked the marshmallow test. They waited almost twice as long as the Western kids.

BETTINA LAMM: That’s really a huge difference, of course.

DOUCLEFF: That’s Bettina Lamm at the University of Osnabruck. She led the study which is published in the journal Child Development. She says Western kids show much more emotion during the test. They squirm in their seats, cry more, whine more.

LAMM: Most of the Cameroonian kids just sit there and wait, and they don’t move a lot. And few of them even slept.

DOUCLEFF: That’s right. A few put their heads down on the table and took a nap. Now, there could be something else going on here besides self-control. A few years ago, Celeste Kidd at the University of Rochester found the marshmallow test also measures trust – how much the kid believes the researcher is going to return with the second marshmallow.

CELESTE KIDD: Kids do take under consideration what has happened in the past, whether waiting will be worth it or not.

DOUCLEFF: Cameroonian parents are very consistent with their parenting. When they say something is going to happen, it happens, which may lead kids to trust adults more. So when a researcher promises a second marshmallow, the Cameroonian kids are more likely to believe them and have more motivation to wait for the second treat.

Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2017. 12.35 p.m. [GMT]

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