100,000-149,999 SparkPoints 129,816

Kindergarten Marshmallow Test, Self-Regulation and Obesity

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Toronto Globe and Mail is running an interesting series on all-day kindergarten, and the impact full-day kindergarten may have on early childhood development.

In Ontario this past year, there has been a controversial experiment with tax-payer funded all day kindergarten for junior and senior kindergartens at selected schools. Lots of parents like it, because it reduces the costs of daycare for working mothers and (when integrated with in-school daycares before and after kindergarten) creates a seamless day for little people without those worrying transitions to the daycare provider. On the other hand, lots of tax payers don't like it, because obviously all-day kindergarten dramatically increases early education costs.

My own kids are long past kindergarten age: they were lucky enough to have every day half day kindergarten still available to them, which seemed to me the happiest compromise at the time. And I was able to be home with them for the other half day, no daycare required. We did all kinds of fun things during those half days together. But I've got to acknowledge, very few kids now will be at home with mum if they're not in school. So it's a debate I've followed with some interest.

So far, the early results do seem to indicate that most children make big big gains with the all day kindergarten programme. But it's not so much about rapid intellectual prowess with reading or numbers: the all-day kindergarten program has focused on a "play-based" curriculum. It's when kids first learn to love school and learning that they will later learn to love reading and writing and everything else that is part of the academic world: you can get kids reading early, but if they hate it they won't continue to build upon those early academic gains. So the full-day play based kindergarten program gains have been mostly with social and emotional development: EQ (emotional quotient) gains. Here's the link if you'd like to read the whole story.


What's this got to do with Spark topics of weight loss/weight maintenance? It's the old IQ/EQ debate: and yes, EQ matters so much more.

The article references a 40-year-old Stanford study in which kindergarten-age students were subjected to the "marshmallow test": the child was left with a tempting marshmallow for 15 minutes, and told that if he or she could resist eating the marshmallow, then at the end of the test he could have two marshmallows.

About 30% of the children tested at age four were able to "self-regulate". Regardless of whether they were early readers, or had early numeracy skills (indicating high IQ, intellectual quotient) those self-regulators were the kids with high EQ (emotional quotient).

Follow up testing over the subsequent 40 years has apparently established that those children who at age four had high EQ and were the best "self-regulators" tended in turn to become the most successful in later years academically (intellectually) AND socially.

The early self-regulators got better grades and more education and higher-earning careers. But they were also most likely to avoid sexual promiscuity, drug and obesity problems.

Well, I guess it's too late for me to go back and take the four year old marshmallow test!

But I've been joking for some time that I can resist anything but temptation. So I try hard to avoid temptation by re-arranging my environment. If I had known at four what I know now, I would have hidden that marshmallow behind the plasticine or the building blocks and then possibly been able to wait out the 15 minutes!!

Judith S. Beck's "Diet Solution" is really about catch-up training in self-regulation: learning to think like a thin person. Beck tells us that NO CHOICE matters, that it's important not to eat standing up and to stick with the pre-planned meals -- not so much because of the calories involved (which might be relatively trivial) but because every time we submit to temptation we strengthen the "giving -in" muscle, and every time we self-regulate, we strengthen the "resistance muscle".

Makes sense. Many of us don't need more "intelligence" about weight loss: we know what we need to do. I've known so many pretty smart, pretty accomplished people who've achieved a great deal in other areas of their lives but just cannot lick obesity. That's in part what's so frustrating. Because it's so frustrating to have all the other accomplishments undercut by the (visible, constant, health-harming) evidence of failure in the obesity self-regulation area.

The difficulty is making ourselves do what we know we need to do: resisting that marshmallow, the trick we needed to have learned at age four or so.

What we need is more EQ, remedial self-regulation. And so it makes sense that so much of what we're offered on SP (teams, points, motivators, blogs) is really about building community and boosting EQ.

Thanks, SP and thanks Judith S. Beck. Looks like I've been making up for lost time. Better late than never I suppose!!

Share This Post With Others
Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Fascinating! I too can resist anything but temptation - and yes, as a consequence, have built in some avoidance of situations or places that I know offer too much temptation. Not easy when I'm married to the 4 yr old who'd eat that marshmallow in the first minute, and then cry when he didn't get the two at the end of the test!
    2529 days ago
    Very interesting article! Thanks for posting :)
    2531 days ago
    That'd be great if obesity were really about moral failing. But there are slender people walking around with chronic disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If they're diagnosed less often with those things than obese people, we haven't yet established that that isn't because they think they're healthy because they're slender, therefore they go to the doctor less often.

    I think most people who try to lose weight fail because they have no idea what they are doing, and they're going about it all wrong. There is so much scientific evidence now that the simplistic notion of weight loss being about calories eaten versus calories exercised off is incorrect. If you're not doing something right, of course you won't succeed at it. Yet every time someone comes up with an alternative explanation that is *better* supported by the science, they are roundly shouted down and then ignored.

    If you are starving (1800 calories a day is semi-starvation, by the way), of course you are going to want to eat. It's not a failure of self-regulation but actually a *success* of it. If all you ever eat are foods that do not induce satiety because you heard those were lower in calories, you are going to be starving most of the time. In the end, you can hypothesize all you want about human beings being walking calorimeters, but you cannot argue with Mother Nature.

    Gary Taubes is a worthwhile person to read on this topic. If you like dense science reading, Good Calories, Bad Calories is an excellent book. If you have no patience for dense science reading or you know it's over your head, Why We Get Fat is an acceptable alternative.

    I used to have horrific problems being tempted to eat potato chips and drink full-sugar soda. I have completely kicked both (very rarely, I'll still have sweet potato chips--like maybe twice a year), and it wasn't from telling myself I was a non-self-regulating failure, it was from getting all the stuff out of my diet that was making my insulin and blood sugar spike and crash all over the place. Hunger is a biochemical response, not a failure of character. Work with your biochemistry, not against it, and see what happens.

    P.S. I daresay children would develop an even better EQ if the adults most important to them in their lives would bother raising them instead of giving birth to/fathering them and then offering them up to the state for rearing. A kid's job is to learn how to be an adult, and they want more than anything else to learn that from their own extended families. That's what they're wired for, that's what they expect, and that's what is routinely thwarted at every turn when they are institutionalized at age six or earlier. John Holt and John Taylor Gatto are good writers to read on the subject.
    2531 days ago
    Totally fascinating.

    2531 days ago
  • BLUESKY_321
    Excellent thoughts here! Thanks so much for sharing!
    2531 days ago
    Fascinating post! I agree with what TryingHard said about obese people rewarding themselves with food. My husband came from a family where bonding involved bags of BBQ potato chips and his dad's homemade dip of two bricks of cream cheese, a tub of sour cream, and ketchup to taste. When I had concerts in college, I would often celebrate by going out for dessert afterward.

    I think your article is spot-on with the EQ. I just think so many of us have experiences where food is part of building EQ (if I understand it correctly), instead of rewarding ourselves with other things or finding things we enjoy other than eating food.

    SparkPeople definitely increased my EQ where food and exercise are concerned and gave me a community to turn to until my husband came around and joined me on the get-healthy quest.
    2531 days ago
    When you think about it self-regulation is all there is. We're responsible for our own behavior - choice or 'no' choice.

    I agree - better late than never (good thing you can teach and old dog new tricks...)
    2532 days ago
    Very good points, Ellen. Thanks for sharing the article and your thoughts.

    2532 days ago
  • NANCY-
    "The difficulty is making ourselves do what we know we need to do"
    Ah yes... I have seen that study... for some children it was extremely painful to wait. I experienced this with staying out of the junkfood aisle, the pull is incredible.
    Changing behavior is difficult, not impossible. Resistance is needed to change a habit. Then there is a tipping point. Once resistance is a habit it becomes the norm for us and not difficult at all.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    2532 days ago
    Love your blog..so true..we all know what to do to lose weght.. eat less/move more...it's the actual doing it that's tough.. I need that EQ..thanks :)
    2532 days ago
    I saw that Stanford study with the marshmallow several years ago, when I was raising my own young 'uns. Interesting what it says about resisting temptation and postponing gratification over the course of a whole life. Fifteen minutes can be a long time for a young child. Self talk makes a big difference.
    My version is to allow myself small pleasures and enjoy them. Delaying gratification is built into the way I eat. For example, I generally don't eat dessert in the evenings. Instead of an extra helping reward, hopefully my reward will be losing these last ten pounds.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    2532 days ago
    An interesting idea to say the least. I know I need to exercise my "resistance" muscle as much as I exercise my bicep or my quad.

    It's just not as much fun.

    2532 days ago
    I have no problem self regulating when it comes to marshmallows... they are not tempting...

    This was a great blog! Really interesting. But, I would posit that there it may not be as simple as across the board self regulation. I am great at self regulating academically (I always have been). Not so good when it comes to eating... Anyone else good in one area but not in others?
    2532 days ago
    Great blog!! Very interesting concept. Now I'm debating whether to give my 4 year old gd the marshmellow test or not, but my gut instinct says she would not last 30 seconds. Guess I better read the article to see if there are some ways I can help her. Bet I wouldn't have lasted even 30 seconds at that age, but I am making progress in developing some of those skills now. And you certainly have!
    2532 days ago
    Great blog. It sounds right to me.
    2532 days ago
    Great blog Ellen. I was interested in your comment about people who have achieved so much and still cannot lick obesity. I sometimes think that people who have achieved highly still reward themselves with something in the mouth, going back to babyhood sucking which gave so much fulfillment, and because they are so 'good' in every other area. Smoking fulfills this need for some but does have life threatening consequences which some people are prepared to risk, amazingly.

    Thanks, indeed, to Sparkpeople.

    2532 days ago
  • Add Your Comment to the Blog Post

    Log in to post a comment

    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.