Monday, September 19, 2011

The Marshmallow Test...and Ultrarunning

In one sense, Ultrarunning provides instant gratification.  The endorphins that are responsible for that sense of well-being that comes from physical exercise such as running kick in rather quickly, and you typically just feel good to be exercising.

And in the long haul, Ultrarunning provides for delayed gratification, as it takes awhile for a runner to build up to the types of distances that we run--50 and 100 milers.  It's clearly a sport for the patient.

This short versus long term gratification is why I was fascinated to read this over at Boing Boing: A Possible Link Between Pollution and Crime—and Marshmallows.  An excerpt:

At Wired, Jonah Lehrer delves into an interesting theory about why American crime rates have fallen so drastically over the last 30 years. Apparently, there is both a correlation and a mechanism that would seem to connect falling rates of a certain kind of environmental pollutant to the downward trend in crime statistics. It all comes back to one of my favorite experiments in the annals of behavioral psychology. I'm speaking, of course, of the marshmallow test.
In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel left pre-schoolers alone in a room with a marshmallow. He gave the kids a choice: Eat your marshmallow now, and it's the only one you get. Resist temptation, and you'll be given two marshmallows to eat later. It's a classic test of delayed gratification and self-control. And only 20% of Mischel's test subjects managed to get the second 'mallow. Their secret: Distracting themselves with other activities, like singing or playing a pretend game.

But here's the interesting thing I didn't know—Mischel has followed those marshmallow kids over the course of their lives. Today, we know that the 20% who could hold out for a second marshmallow also had higher SAT scores, more friends, and fewer anger management issues as teenagers. And, thanks to brainscans, we can actually see differences between the adult brains of the 20% and their less self-controlled counterparts.

Better go read the whole post at Boing Boing.  It's a good one! 

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