Beyond Self-Control: Marshmallows or Drugs?

I browsed the laundry detergent section at Wal-Mart yesterday. Honestly, it was kind of stressful.

I needed a small bottle of detergent to clean my clothes for a few weeks, a simple task. But at least 30 different brands—each with creative labels, slogans and color schemes shouted at me to “make the best purchase!” It was almost too much to take.

I perused my choices and slowly reached the end of the aisle, without a bottle. I ended up leaving the store and borrowing a friend’s detergent.

The Marshmallow Study and Self-Control

Choices make us who we are. You’ve probably made hundreds, if not thousands of choices already today. Did you get up to your alarm this morning or the 9th time you hit the snooze? Are you going to eat that piece of leftover cake after lunch or choose to skip dessert? Choices, choices, choices…

Control is the key to making right choices—self-control.

In the late 1960s, Stanford University developed a brilliant little test of the will power. Researchers placed four-year-old kids in a small room and gave them a marshmallow or different tempting treat of their liking. The researchers told the kids they could either eat the treat immediately or wait a few minutes and receive a second one.

Correlation Between Children With Drug Addiction Problems and Marshmallow Study

Delayed gratification is painful.

Follow-up studies on the kids who waited for a second marshmallow compared to those who ate the treat immediately demonstrated significant differences between the groups.

Those who waited were significantly less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction or obesity by the time they entered high school (TIME). SAT scores for those who delayed their gratification were an average of 210 points higher.

NIDA Study Finds The Same Correlation

Potential problems often await teens who can’t delay gratification says a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Though the study didn’t focus specifically on drug and alcohol use, the findings easily carry into the addiction conversation.

The study surveyed 372 twelve-year-old twins. They were each given two choices: if they waited a week they would receive $10, or they could take $7 immediately. The results were similar to the infamous “marshmallow test.”

Those who chose to wait a week for an extra $3 were far less likely to have used drugs in the past year.


Both of these studies dig into an issue deeper than self-control or willpower. They demonstrate the importance of personal responsibility.

We are each personally responsible for the choices we make. I think the “fact-of-the-matter” was stated clearly by Water Mischel, a Stanford professor of psychology, and head of the “marshmallow test.”

Mishcel says that, “We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

Addiction is a very real part of our modern world; how are you dealing with it?