The Marshmallow Test

Photo of Marshmallows

I’ve been chewing on Psychology books and studies lately, as per usual.

Recently, I’ve been mulling over The Marshmallow Test. It’s a famous study, one many readers might’ve heard of. It essentially goes along the lines of: child can choose to eat a marshmallow, OR delay gratification to get 2 later. The experimenter, who tested on Stanford preschoolers, then followed up with the adults. He saw a positive correlation between self-control and higher SAT scores, higher income, lower BMI, etc. In other words, many of the children who could exercise self-control in The Marshmallow Test had better life outcomes.

But, as it often happens, the study was mildly bastardized, causation was surmised from correlation, and people took it too far. They figured that all a kid needed was self-control from candies to succeed in life; they worried when their child gave into fluffy desires. Amid the psychology revolution, where countless scientists are now trying to “disprove” popular studies (which, by the way, is not possible–nothing in psychology is provable, and there’s always a chance that the outcome was due to chance), one psychologist sought out to disprove the findings. He stumbled upon a larger data set compiled by the NIH, which had also conducted a similar experiment on children. He then followed up with the adults, and found that, if controlled for education and income, the correlation was not nearly as strong.

The conclusion? That The Marshmallow Study’s findings were fake! Null! The correlation was there, but barely! What really mattered was the child’s income background, and their family’s resources! The initial sample consisted of Stanford babies, privileged babies! Self-control meant nothing! Delayed gratification was not worth teaching in schools!

At least, that’s how many popular news sites framed it. But as I read The Marshmallow Test written by the Walter Mischel himself (the mastermind behind it all), I realize his thesis, and studies, are far more nuanced than “marshmallow decision => life outcomes.” In the book, he explores his interest in self-control, and influencers of self-control, such as biological disposition and environmental factors. He opens with a primary idea that self-control may be malleable, perhaps worked like a muscle. By no means did Mischel imply that self-control was a you-have-it-or-you-don’t trait. As he tweaked his experiments, he noticed that various factors affected the children’s decision to delay gratification: whether they trusted the experimenter, how old they were, what gender they were, and what questions they were asked.

In addition, he notes the crucial interplay of biology and environment on self-control and life outcomes. Resources–including income and schooling–matter. He writes of a boy living in poverty who wins an educational lottery to a better school. At this school, educators didn’t shit on him; they encouraged him when he did well, punished him when he performed badly. He learned from these experiences, described the program as ‘saving’ him, and subsequently attended Yale. His life outcomes had more to do with just self-control, but perhaps they had something to do with it.

At the same time, it’s facetious to assume that self control (and, while we’re on the topic, Duckworth’s idea of grit) is all a child needs to succeed. Of course family income matters. It matters–a lot. The greatest predictor of a child’s adult income is how much the parents make. And so while delayed gratification may be of importance in certain situations, odds are, it probably won’t cancel out the impact of poverty on a child. If resources are scarce, and short-term goals are prioritized (understandably), then delayed gratification won’t cause that upward life trajectory.

But given a person does have the resources to delay gratification, it seems obvious that it’s an important trait. For kids who get high standardized test scores, they delay the gratification of fun-right-now, for dull studying. For people who want to lose weight, they delay the gratification of rich cheesecake, for a lower scale. For people who want retirement savings, they delay the gratification of early gifts and vacations, for a financially secure future. Of course the capability to not cave into impulses can lead to better life outcomes. That is, given a person has the means–the test material, the food, the money–to even delay gratification.

Delayed gratification won’t close the educational gap between the rich and the poor. It won’t give children the full toolkit to succeed in school, in the workplace, or in life. And one marshmallow decision–self-controlled or not–won’t spell out a person’s entire future. The marshmallow study investigates a broader topic within psychology: self-control, impulsivity, and consequences. But by no means is delayed gratification a life solver or high SAT score bringer. And it certainly won’t nullify the crippling effects of certain impoverished environments. At the same time, it may highlight something important about people and their decisions. And given the general recklessness of children, self-control should still hold a place on an educator’s list.



bjork drawing

I’m a fountain of love in the shape of a girl / You’re a bird on the brim, hypnotized by the whirl

Completed graphite portrait of Bjork, first sketch in my new portraits notebook. Every time I think of Bjork, I hear her melodious tittering voice and Bachelorette in my head.

June Bugs in the Winter


Saturday morning. I woke up at 5 and we arrived by 6, the wind so cold it bit into us like knives. I wore my frayed red scarf as we boarded the bus, skies were purpley blue. I watched the sunrise through the sketch of back roads, blues and oranges and rocky gravel.

Countless love triangles zig-zagged their way unrequited among the best friends. Among him, you, her, me. Your best friend. My best friend. My best friend’s friend’s then-best-friend, then his best friend, or your best friend. I was to you as he was to me; she was to him as I was to you as he was to me. Now he’s little to them and we are nothing to each other.


Cycling through obsessions like a broken washing machine. I am: drawn to the same aesthetic like a film-drunk moth. Film, film, film and light gossamer. And beautiful people in beautiful places.

Last Night (Five Months Ago)

I looked at a trash can strewn and crooked and swore it was art. Saw shadows fanning light and searched for the source. Thought how can this be? and how are we here? and I’m glad everything just is. I kept these things to myself until I realized, in steady sobriety, that this was reality, that this was the nighttime, that this was the glittering town spread beneath our legs, strands of hair spinning free, stories up above the ground, city sprawled beneath the bumper.

July 2017

100 Books Reading Challenge

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 4.59.57 PM

Started a reading challenge project mid-spring of 2017. The goal: read 100 books by summer in a year. I’m inching along, albeit at a slower pace than I’d like. Figured posting the list on my blog would hold me accountable–also, I get to share cool books!

So here’s a list of books I’ve reading; I plan to update every 10 books or so. If you have any book recommendations, I’d love to hear them! 🙂

  1. One! Hundred! Demons!, Lynda Barry
  2. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  4. Here, Richard McGuire
  5. Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks
  6. Burned, Ellen Hopkins
  7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling
  8. Walking Dead 1, Robert Kirkman
  9. Walking Dead 2, Robert Kirkman
  10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelous
  11. Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
  12. Partner Track, Helen Wan
  13. Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen
  14. Kafka, R. Crumb
  15. Project Jennifer, Jill Rosenblatt
  16. Dignity, Donna Hicks
  17. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Roz Chast
  18. Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig
  19. Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, Nakazawa Keji
  20. Meow Meow, Jose Fonollosa
  21. Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann
  22. Phenomenal Woman, Maya Angelou
  23. The Skin Above My Knees, Marcia Butler
  24. Essential Poems (To Fall in Love With), Daisy Goodwin
  25. Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins
  26. Future Tense, Paintings by Alex Gross
  27. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
  28. Thirst, Poems by Mary Oliver
  29. Global Street Art, Lee Boffkin
  30. Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami
  31. Vintage Cisneros, Sandra Cisneros 
  32. Have You Seen Marie, Sandra Cisneros
  33. Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros
  34. The Quiet Eye: A Way of Looking at Pictures, Sylvia Judson
  35. Blue Nights, Joan Didion 
  36. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  37. This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
  38. The Embassy of Cambodia, Zadie Smith
  39. Love Mad Poems, Rumi
  40. The Wolves In The Walls, Neil Gaiman
  41. Forms of Distance, Bei Dao
  42. 73 Poems, E.E. Cummings
  43. The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez
  44. Little Book of Little Stories
  45. Shoplifer, Michael Cho
  46. Rick & Morty Comics
  47. Fresh Complaint, Jeffrey Eugenides
  48. Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
  49. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  50. South and West, Joan Didion
  51. Dear Dumb Diary
  52. Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron
  53. Stitches, David Small
  54. Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
  55. Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
  56. Pretty: Stories, Greg Kearney
  57. Night Watch, Malin Lindroth
  58. Constance and the Great Escape, Pieere Le Gall 
  59. Rapunzel, Paul Zelinsky
  60. Jane and the Fox & Me, Isabelle Aresenault 
  61. I’ve Loved You Since Forever, Hoda Kobb
  62. Corduroy, Don Freeman
  63. Buck, MK Asante
  64. Chemistry, Weike Wang
  65. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  66. Soviet Daughter, Julia Alekseyeva
  67. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  68. LIFE 70 Years of Extraordinary Photography
  69. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder
  70. SHOCK
  71. Beijing: Imperial and Contemporary
  72. Abandoned America, Matthew Christopher
  73. The Polaroid Book
  74. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  75. Cats, Jane Bown
  76. The Photographs of Carl Mydans
  77. Camanchaca, Diego Zuniga 
  78. Creepy Carrots, Aaron Reynolds
  79. Lies in The Dust : A Tale of Remorse From The Salem Witch Trial,
  80. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  81. Going Into Town, Roz Chaz
  82. Doodle Diary of A New Mom, Lucy Scott

Weekend Roadtrip: Day 1 | Photo Diary



After a few heavyish days of work, I welcomed our Halloween weekend roadtrip with open arms.

We exited the city. Urban sights. Buildings, lanky; cars, cranky.

Traffic was awful on the way out. Extended the trip by an hour and a half. Slow eighteen-wheelers formed blocks on the 2 highway roads. The occasional snaking did little, if anything, and we found ourselves behind the same squarish white vehicle humming along at 75 mph. After an hour, we exited onto winding country roads dotted with ‘cow orchards.’


A horse, I pointed. Those are cows, he said.

Indie alternative playlist, light and happy. The sun beat down on the right side of the car, which I happened to be sitting on. I’d decided to wear a long sleeve sweater: this was a mistake. But eventually I propped up the window cover, and slung it over a hook.

We stopped for kolaches. I changed into a floral tank in the car. We ordered danish ‘kolaches’ with jelly-filled centers and the typical pigs-in-a-blanket. I got a mid-sized one as big as my face and munched on that as we returned to driving.

Shot with NOMO INS W.

In time, the sun set. Violently pretty, I wrote on IG Stories. We cruised along a wider highway, making our way down the road. Red-pink, orange-yellow, white-blue sky. Sky line silhouettes. We exited onto a long road of tolls.

Falling darkness. Falling parts out of the angry aggressive truck beside us.

Toll flash. Toll flash. Toll flash. Toll flash.

“Nine tolls so far.”


Around 8:30, we stopped by a nearby BBQ hut dimly lit by the side of the road. A fake horse stood in front. We circled around the farm-like place, unable to find the entrance. Plumes of BBQ-esque smoke hung in the lot. We found the entrance. Inside were wooden seats; above, the decorative remains of a bony animal.

We reached our destination. To wrap the night up, we finished the BBQ and watched a few episodes of Haunting of Hill House, snuggled beneath the throw.