May 15, 2009

I Wish I Had A Guinea Pig

Nah, not the cute stinky little kind. A kid. A little kid. To perform behavioural experiments on.

Heinous, eh? Not really. You've no doubt seen documentary footage or news shows about teaching kids the advantages of delaying gratification. They put a kid in a room with a pile of M&Ms, and tell him he can have them all right away, or twice as many if he can wait 15 minutes. They leave the room; they then watch the kid twist into a pretzel trying to not eat the M&Ms.

This experiment was originally done over 40 years ago using a marshmallow. The New Yorker has an awesome piece on the the follow up, and the fascinating implications for research in this field. No, really. It has implications for all of us, and could lead to so many fabulous things if it could unravel the clues.

Apparently, the children who could delay - even at 4 years of age - have proven to go on to very different lives than those who could not. The ability to change your focus (from the marshmallow you are dying to eat) to a way to distract yourself so as to gain a bigger reward is a life lesson applied across the board. Scientists are chasing down the core group - seeing how careers panned out, family situations, everything.

Research like this holds out hope for many reasons, if you ask me. I'm sick of doping kids who don't act a certain way; if it is proven that we can 'nurture' to overcome 'nature', teach tools that will let every child succeed, it makes far more sense than punishing/restraining/doping the behaviour that contributes to non-achievement. Notice I didn't say failure; I still believe that success is different things for different people, and I refuse to categorize one person's idea of success as another's idea of failure. I think we could do with a few less captains of industry, and a few more artists.

They're currently looking at a far wider range of subjects. While it's tough to skirt so many factors when dealing with thousands of children, one fact will pop off the page at you: it becomes obvious that children can absolutely be taught how and why - but it must must must be reinforced at home. Teachers and parents both have a huge role in this, but think about it: instilling patterns and lessons that can be carried into all regions of your life. Not just expecting children to respond, but actually capitalizing on their huge capacity to think.

It's a long piece, and it's sunny out, and I'm sorry. But it really is good whether you have kids or not. Why? Because you were once a kid, and I'm betting you will see pieces of yourself in it. Clear 15 minutes and give it a read.

And I don't even like marshmallows.


Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

Ha!!! I am one step ahead of you. I have two Guinea pigs that I perform behavioural experiments on all the time. When they were growing up we would constantly give them the option of doing what was asked of them (for which they would be rewarded with ice cream, or plastic animals, or whatever the flavour of the month was) or not... and end up having to do it anyway with no reward. We discovered two things. One is now addicted to ice cream and the other has a cunning mind that is able to convince you that they have done what was requested when, in fact, it was not.

If our youngest had been in the "awesome piece", I am convinced she would have thrown a quick seance, invoked Houdini, learned to palm marshmallows, eaten them all, and convinced the rodent faced scientists that they were still there. They would have patted her on the head, given her the double dose, and she would have ended up with triple the amount of marshmallows, and a quick tete a tete with the greatest magician ever.

All in a days work for a girl that has aspirations of becoming a lawyer. God bless all the criminal master minds out there. They'd better have more than marshmallows up their sleeves.

May 15, 2009 12:04 PM  
Blogger Webgod Jeff said...

Yeah, I'm not bringing Steven over to your house anymore...

May 15, 2009 12:36 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Okay, this seriously made me laugh.

Steven loves me. I have pizza. And toys.

May 16, 2009 8:41 PM  

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