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The original marshmallow test was flawed, researchers now say
One of the most famous experiments in psychology might be completely wrong.
- A team of psychologists have repeated the famous marshmallow experiment and found the original test to be flawed.
- It joins the ranks of many psychology experiments that cannot be repeated, which presents a considerable problem for its findings.
- The finding that children with similar demographics had similar success as teenagers no matter what they did as toddlers raises questions about how flexible self-control is as a trait and how much it actually helps us get ahead.
Almost everybody has heard of the Stanford marshmallow experiment. For those of you who haven't, the idea is simple; a child is placed in front of a marshmallow and told they can have one now or two if they don't eat the one in front of them for fifteen minutes. Their ability to delay gratification is recorded, and the child is checked in on as they grow up to see how they turned out.
It is one of the most famous studies in modern psychology, and it is often used to argue that self-control as a child is a predictor of success later in life. However, an attempt to repeat the experiment suggests there were hidden variables that throw the findings into doubt.
Marshmallows for Everybody!
The new marshmallow experiment, published in Psychological Science in the spring of 2018, repeated the original experiment with only a few variations. More than 10 times as many children were tested, raising the number to over 900, and children of various races, income brackets, and ethnicity were included. The maximum time the children would have to wait for the marshmallow was cut in half.
This study discovered that the ability of the children to wait for the second marshmallow had only a minor positive effect on their achievements at age 15, at best being half as substantial as the original test found the behavior to be. More interestingly, this effect was nearly obliterated when the children's backgrounds, home environment, and cognitive ability at age four were accounted for. The behavior of the children 11 years after the test was found to be unrelated to whether they could wait for a marshmallow at age 4.
It was also found that most of the benefits to the children who could wait the whole seven minutes for the marshmallow were shared by the kids who ate the marshmallow seconds upon receiving it. This, in the researchers eyes, casted further doubt on the value of the "self-control" shown by the kids who did wait.Lead author Tyler W. Watts of New York University explained the results by saying, "Our results show that once background characteristics of the child and their environment are taken into account, differences in the ability to delay gratification do not necessarily translate into meaningful differences later in life." They also added "We found virtually no correlation between performance on the marshmallow test and a host of adolescent behavioral outcomes. I thought that this was the most surprising finding of the paper."
What does this mean for self-control as a virtue?
While the test doesn't prove that the virtue of self-control isn't useful in life, it is a nice trait to have; it does show that there is more at play than researchers previously thought.
The key finding of the study is that the ability of the children to delay gratification didn't put them at an advantage over their peers from with similar backgrounds. Students whose mothers had college degrees were all doing similarly well 11 years after they decided whether to eat the first marshmallow. The same was true for children whose mothers lacked a college education.
This opens the doors to other explanations for why children who turn out worse later might not wait for that second marshmallow.
Many thinkers, such as, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, are now turning to the idea that the effects of living in poverty can lead to the tendency to set short-term goals, which would help explain why a child might not wait for the second marshmallow. If true, then this tendency may give way to lots of problems for at-risk children. After all, if your life experiences tell you that you have no assurances that there will be another marshmallow tomorrow, why wouldn't you eat the one in front of you right now?
They often point to another variation of the experiment which explored how kids reacted when an adult lied to them about the availability of an item. When a child was told they could have a second marshmallow by an adult who had just lied to them, all but one of them ate the first one. In the cases where the adult had come through for them before, most of the kids were able to wait for the second marshmallow.
Were the kids who ate the first marshmallow in the first study bad at self-control or just acting rationally given their life experiences? The same question might be asked for the kids in the newer study.Another interpretation is that the test subjects saw comparative improvements or declines in their ability for self-control in the decade after the experiment until everybody in a given demographic had a similar amount of it. If this is true, it opens up new questions on how to positively influence young people's ability to delay gratification and how severely our home lives can affect how we turn out.
What does this mean for experimental psychology?
The refutation of the findings of the original study is part of a more significant problem in experimental psychology where the results of old experiments can't be replicated. Some tests had a poor methodology, like the Stanford prison experiment, some didn't factor for all of their variables, and others relied on atypical test subjects and were shocked to find their findings didn't apply to the population at large, like the marshmallow test.
That last issue is so prevalent that the favored guinea pigs of psychology departments, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic students, have gained the acronym WEIRD. This is a bigger problem than you might think because lots of ideas in psychology are based around the findings of studies which might not be generalizable. The original marshmallow test has been quoted endlessly and used in arguments for the value of character in determining life outcomes despite only having students at a pre-school on Stanford's campus involved, hardly a typical group of kids.
The Stanford marshmallow test is a famous, flawed, experiment. While it remains true that self-control is a good thing, the amount you have at age four is largely irrelevant to how you turn out. So, relax if your kindergartener is a bit impulsive. They still have plenty of time to learn self-control.
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Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
Workers are adjusting to their new employment reality on couches and kitchen tables across the nation.
A new study suggests that an old tuberculosis vaccine may reduce the severity of coronavirus cases.
- A new study finds a country's tuberculosis BCG vaccination is linked to its COVID-19 mortality rate.
- More BCG vaccinations is connected to fewer severe coronavirus cases in a country.
- The study is preliminary and more research is needed to support the findings.
Professor Luis Escobar.
Credit: Virginia Tech