A Marshmallow in hand…

Psychologist Walter Mischel conducted the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960’s. This experiment focused on delayed gratification. In the study Mischel offered children one marshmallow if they would like to eat it immediately and two marshmallows if they could wait (unsupervised) 15 minutes before eating it. In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one-third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

Camper refining pottery skills

Camper refining pottery skills

This portion of the experiment validated what anyone who interacts with children knows, delayed gratification is a trait which most children struggle with.  The experiment was filmed, you can literally see children struggle to stave off their impulses. They squirm, wiggle, kick and even cover their eyes to avoid their impulse to give in to their tendencies. But, in the end over two-thirds of the children in the study were unable to wait 15 minutes for the second marshmallow.

The most interesting portion of this research project involved ongoing testing years and even decades into the future. Mischel found that the children who managed to control their impulses tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.  This research indicates that helping children develop the ability to manage their impulses is a skill, which may help them in numerous areas of their lives.

Camp is an experience where children, often for the first time, experiment with their autonomy and begin to develop a sense of self outside the hemisphere of their family unit. Boys at camp manage impulses of their own character and begin to develop an understanding of the benefits of taking into account the needs of their peers and the greater camp community.  Campers participate in activities such as archery, riflery and canoeing where establishing safety takes precedence over jumping right in. Camp teaches boys that taking the time to build a solid foundation of safety allows a deeper freedom when developing and exploring a new skill or activity.

At Camp Winnebago we teach and role model impulse control in our activities and social interactions. We extrapolate the importance of the skill by naming it, helping them understand how it is useful in the moment, and how it has the potential to make a positive impact in their lives in other realms as well.  We role model to campers by staying patient with this process and understand that the development and refining of traits like patience are taught through repetition in a longer span of time.


So, although eating your s’more immediately sounds nice, waiting that extra fifteen minutes and adding the second marshmallow may just be worth the wait!


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