You may or may not have heard of the Marshmallow Test, but the Marshmallow Test has heard of you. In case you don’t know what the Marshmallow test is, I’ll explain. In 1960, researchers gave kindergarten aged children a choice: eat one marshmallow now, or save that marshmallow and you can have another one later.
The originator of that study, Walter Mischel, found that kids who saved the marshmallow did better in school, better on the SAT, and better at life in general. People who saved the marshmallow were thinner and did fewer drugs and If you have ADHD, you probably know what’s coming next.
People with ADHD are terrible at the Marshmallow Test.
I try to imagine my five-year-old self taking the Marshmallow Test. I would have taken the marshmallow without hesitation, and shoved it in my mouth. And then I would have spit it out. And then I would have asked for the other marshmallow to see if that marshmallow was just as dusty, flavorless and oddly textured as the first marshmallow. And then I would have spit that marshmallow out too.
I don’t like marshmallows.
But that never stopped me from trying marshmallows. As a child, I had an empirical bent of mind, and marshmallows were mysterious and fascinating to me. I was willing to try marshmallows over and over, looking for the logic in a monumentally bland food with a suspicious texture. Some foods taste bad because they are good for you. Not so, marshmallows. No one really thinks marshmallows are good for you.
Some foods are so hideously bitter, they only require one simple explanation— they are for adults. I remember asking my mother how she could stand to drink coffee, when coffee tastes horrible. She laughed.
“Why don’t you get back to me on that in about thirty years?” she said.
My mother was right, of course. Not only do I love the taste of coffee, but coffee is necessary for my continual survival on this planet. Adulthood. It just happens, mysteriously and unexpectedly.
I once asked my mother if she liked marshmallows. She seemed baffled by the question. In all my years as a marshmallow researcher, I’ve never found anyone who absolutely loves them. Sure—you love them in hot chocolate, but admit, that’s just for humor value. And the shapes in Lucky Charms cereal are not really marshmallows, because they are crunchy. Who knows what those things are?
A few years ago someone gave me two bags of homemade marshmallows. These marshmallows were pleasingly square and authentically handmade. The peppermint marshmallows were the palest blush, and the chocolate, an appealing tan. I looked forward to finally solving the mystery of marshmallows. I was willing to believe that the problem was I’d never actually had a good, homemade marshmallow before.
I ate several marshmallows, and forced my family members to undergo blind taste test comparisons between the homemade marshmallows and store bought marshmallows. They were suspicious, as anyone who is offered a marshmallow should be. I floated marshmallows in hot beverages, microwaved them, and made them into rice crispy treats. No difference.
Now, after decades of research I can safely conclude that marshmallows are inexplicable.
This is why I would have failed the Marshmallow Test. You have your Marshmallow Test and I have mine.