Note: This is all about my all time favorite sweet treat, Marshmallow. 🙂
The History of Marshmallow
The Herbal Properties of the Marsh-Mallow Plant
The Marsh-Mallow plant was harvested from salt marshes and on banks near large bodies of water. According to Viable Herbal Solutions “Nineteenth century doctors extracted juice from the marsh mallow plant’s roots and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped the mixture into a foamy meringue that later hardened, creating a medicinal candy used to soothe children’s sore throats. Eventually, advanced manufacturing processes and improved texturing agents eliminated the need for the gooey root juice altogether. Unfortunately, that eliminated the confection’s healing properties as a cough suppressant, immune system booster and wound healer.”
THE MARSHMALLOW EXPERIMENT
From the pulpit to the boardroom, the playschool to the academic institute, the marshmallow has a role. Yes, that soft, powdery, fluffy sweet that coffee shops crumble onto our hot chocolate and are so loved by children, especially when toasted.
A study carried out by Professor Walter Mischel almost 40 years ago using a marshmallow has proven to be one of the most successful experiments in behavioural science for decades.
Mischel, now in his 70s, is currently a psychologist at Columbia University in New York.
In the late 1960s he conducted a study on pre-school children aiming to demonstrate the mental mechanisms they used to delay immediate gratification in favour of more long-term rewards.
Known as the Marshmallow Experiment, he put the sweet on each child’s desk and left the room for 20 minutes.
Before departing he told them they could eat it whenever they wanted but if they chose not to, then they would receive another on his return.
One third grabbed the sweet immediately, others resisted for a time but eventually succumbed, while the remainder were able to restrain themselves.
He then followed the subjects into adolescence and found that the traits of the grabbers continued, and these predicted drug misuse, bullying, dependability, irritability etc in adolescence. The delayers and restrainers, meanwhile, all achieved more highly.
Examining videos of the experiment, Mischel found that children used a variety of tactics to distract themselves from the temptation — some kicked and screamed, others looked away or covered their eyes, while others cried and could no longer control their impulse.
What was going on in their minds, what their thoughts were saying to them, is unknown.
Now 40 of the original children are about to participate in a study of their brains using imaging techniques to try and identify the differences between the original waiters and grabbers so that interventions can be developed to train people to defer gratification.
These studies might unlock Freudian theory of personality — the id was the primitive, pleasure-driven part, the ego the reality component, while the superego represented the moral element.
Behaviour, he said, was a tussle between these various parts and those who were impulsive were said to be driven by a strong id and weak superego while those who were dependable had the reverse configuration.
Our modern tools for studying the brain may have dispensed with these terms but the ideas they represent may prove to be a reality.
These neuro-imaging studies will have implications that go beyond how we understand the pleasure principle and morality and may potentially assist in treating conditions that are underpinned by impulsivity such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance misuse disorder.
The dieting industry and anger management programmes could also be influenced.
While we know that the traits of restraint and forward planning are partly inherited and partly environmental, the mix of one relative to the other is unknown.
However, we know that these to some degree are malleable and these studies should assist us in determining the extent of this.
Some believe that the findings may ultimately have implications for social policy.
The response of government to problems such as substance misuse and anti-social behaviour are often structural in nature, such as improving medical interventions for substance misusers, decreasing poverty, initiating employment programmes etc.
It has been argued that the effectiveness of these initiatives are disappointing and that without addressing the core psychological traits, such as the ability to defer gratification, they are doomed to failure.
Only time will tell if these lofty ambitions are realised.
If these studies live up to their promise we look forward to the time when the maxim of the Jesuits is realised: Give me a child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man.
And all with the help of a marshmallow.
– Patricia Casey