Do you know the marshmallow test? A classic in psychology. In fact, this experiment was conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel from 1968 to 1974 at Stanford University in California with 550 children aged around five. The conclusions of his experience, which he presents to us in a book, are astonishing and could undoubtedly be applied to the all-digital world in which we live today.
I summarize for you the experience which, over time, has been taken up by different researchers with slight variations. So, sitting on a chair in front of a table, the child finds himself facing a plate on which is placed a tempting marshmallow. The instructor then explains to the child that when the experience begins, he can eat the candy if he wishes. However, if he decides to wait 15 minutes for the instructor to return to the room, he will receive an additional marshmallow if he has not devoured the first one.
Learn to postpone your pleasures
What will the child do? Enjoy the present moment or procrastinate and be doubly rewarded?
If you have a few minutes, I strongly advise you to go to YouTube to check out various videos on this experience. You will see children closing their eyes or looking away from the coveted object so as not to succumb to temptation. You will see others sniffing and tweaking the delicacy in question while hastening to put it back on the plate so as not to capitulate. But, as expected, some of them will not be able to resist the immediate pleasure. Like Eve faced with the forbidden fruit, they will consume the marshmallow, oblivious to the beautiful promise made by the monitor.
What is interesting in this experiment is that the children who took part in it were then followed by the team of researchers for several years. And what they have found over time is amazing. Children who did not do well in delaying their pleasure, i.e. waiting 15 minutes for a greater reward, had more addiction problems as they aged, did less schooling, had more health problems, had less self-confidence, experienced more separations, earned lower salaries, etc.
Knowing how to delay immediate gratification, resist temptation, control one’s emotions or impulses, be disciplined or show willpower: whatever name we give to this cognitive skill, it pays off for those who possess it. . This power allows them to project themselves into the future, to carry out long-term projects, to be more independent, freer and to flourish more than those who are and remain slaves of the present moment and its many baits. .
Good news, however: human beings are not at the mercy of their genetics. He can learn, especially when he is young, to postpone his pleasure, to discipline himself or to push back the temptation of the moment. This ability is acquired and developed, hence the importance of the environment, the role of parents and, of course, education to achieve this.
However, out of recklessness, unconsciousness, to buy peace or not to seem to miss the train of progress, our society – parents, teachers, governments – has agreed to put in the hands of children not dreamcatchers , but much more attention. I am obviously referring here to the world of screens, digital devices and the applications associated with them, which over the years have ended up eating up a large part of the free time and attention available to children, adolescents and young adults.
Based on captology, a discipline born at the end of the 1990s which studies the influence of digital technologies on the behavior of individuals, the GAFAM or the lords of digital have since made every effort to exploit the psychological vulnerabilities of young people. and the not so young in order to keep them in their nets until too often creating a real addiction to their applications: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and other social networks.
In fact, all these technologies act as a huge marshmallow who, strutting around in his finery, manages to agglutinate his victims, eager as they are to receive their dose of dopamine here and now, their immediate and absolutely undelayed rewards.
If at least all these hours spent online by screen addicts were intended to learn, to grow, to flourish! But this is obviously not the case. As Olivier Babeau points out in his essay The tyranny of entertainmentall this time spent in front of screens “is squandered in the nothingness of a solitary headlong rush”, and tries above all to fill this form of alienating boredom which takes the form of a “sad rumination of the void”.
“The art of occupying one’s free time is the main challenge that people living in developed countries have to face. It is about our mental balance, but also our ability to progress socially, ”adds the essayist. In fact, the question that should be asked is whether we will have, find or develop the necessary will as a society to finally give our children something other than marshmallow to eat.