Children have got much better at a famous psychological test


“OUR sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.” That was the way of the world according to Horace, a Roman poet, writing in about 20BC.

He has no shortage of contemporary successors. Doomsayers of the past two centuries have blamed, among other things, novels, the radio, jazz, rock ‘n roll, television, horror films, Dungeons & Dragons, video games, the internet, smartphones and social media for the sad decline of the young. John Protzko, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, though, wondered whether things might not be quite so gloomy as they seemed. To try to bring some rigour to the question, he went hunting for examples of a cognitive experiment called the marshmallow test. This test, first performed at Stanford University in the 1960s, measures how good young children are at self-control—specifically, whether or not they can...

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