What do marshmallows have to do with HR?

In a lesson for HR and business leaders, these sweet treats can reveal plenty about a person's future success

What do marshmallows have to do with HR? In a roundabout way, quite a lot.

Marshmallows were at the root of a series of classic studies on delayed gratification. The studies, conducted in the early 1960s and 1970s, examined the connection between ability to delay gratification and life outcomes.

In the study, preschool children were given a choice of one small reward — provided immediately — or two small rewards if they could wait a short period of time. The rewards were sometimes marshmallows and sometimes cookies or pretzels.

The researchers found that children with the ability to delay gratification tended to have better outcomes later in life — in everything from education to body mass index.

In a follow-up 10 years later, researchers found the children who were able to delay gratification in the original study were “significantly more competent” than their peers who went for the marshmallow right away, according to the study. And a further follow-up showed that the children who waited for a larger reward had higher SAT scores on average.

So what do marshmallows have to do with HR? If nothing else, the story of the Stanford marshmallow experiments is a great teaching tool for managers and employees alike. Patience — and the ability to hold out for a larger reward down the line — can be a key to lasting success.

Related stories:

Five HR skills that separate the great from the good
Facing the dark art of organisational psych
Should HR focus more on soft skills?

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