The Marshmallow Test

Mastering Self-Control


By Walter Mischel

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Renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, designer of the famous Marshmallow Test, explains what self-control is and how to master it.

A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: Eat this one now, or wait and enjoy two later. What will she do? And what are the implications for her behavior later in life?

The world’s leading expert on self-control, Walter Mischel has proven that the ability to delay gratification is critical for a successful life, predicting higher SAT scores, better social and cognitive functioning, a healthier lifestyle and a greater sense of self-worth. But is willpower prewired, or can it be taught?

In The Marshmallow Test, Mischel explains how self-control can be mastered and applied to challenges in everyday life — from weight control to quitting smoking, overcoming heartbreak, making major decisions, and planning for retirement. With profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care, The Marshmallow Test will change the way you think about who we are and what we can be.


  • "The discoveries that grew out of the marshmallow studies add up to one of the most insightful research stories in the history of psychology. Whatever it is now, your view of human nature will change profoundly as you read this brilliant book."
    Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow
  • "A fascinating book. It is such an addictive treat that I had no self-control in reading it, until I understood that I could actually improve my self-control, and from then on I was in marshmallow heaven. Stimulating, fun, clear, lively, and drawn from rigorous studies. It's not only accessible, but very convincing. Seriously, I love it."
    Alan Alda, actor, writer, science communication advocate
  • "This is the book we've all been waiting for. Parents, teachers, and policymakers have long yearned for the original architect of self-control research to tell us what to take away from the single most important experiment in social science history. In this masterpiece, Walter Mischel explains why waiting for two little treats at age four, rather than devouring one right away, is so prognostic of later life outcomes. Most important, he illustrates with solid research and insightful anecdote the most important claim of the book: that self-control can be taught and mastered."
    Angela Lee Duckworth, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, and a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow
  • "This is an amazing - eye-opening, transformative, riveting - book from one of the greatest psychologists of our time. Mischel delivers the powerful message that self-control can be enhanced, and shows us how!"
    Carol S. Dweck, Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, author of Mindset
  • "Walter Mischel's 'marshmallow test' has become legendary, a harbinger of our understanding the lifetime role of cognitive control, self-discipline, and will. His book, The Marshmallow Test, a charmingly told scientific story, makes clear the test is not just about youngsters, but is helpful to us all in the marshmallow moments we face through life. Mischel has written a wonderful book, engaging, enlightening, and profound."
    Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus
  • "This marvelous book is unique, and beautifully written from beginning to end. The range that Walter Mischel covers-from creative cognitive science to neuroscience to genetics-is breathtaking. This speaks for science at its best. Bravo!"
    Eric R. Kandel, MD, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, University Professor, Department of Neuroscience, Columbia University, author of The Age of Insight and In Search of Memory
  • "Walter Mischel is one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, and The Marshmallow Test will make him one of the most influential in this century, too. Thanks in no small part to his groundbreaking (and viral) findings, we know that self-control is among the most important contributors to human flourishing, and that though its biological roots run deep, it can be dramatically enhanced in individuals and societies. Here we have the maestro himself explain the science and its implications­-wisely, accessibly, and humanely."
    Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature.
  • "Walter Mischel has changed psychologists' view of human potential, and The Marshmallow Test will change yours. The book is full of insights about self-control and how to master it, though it does create one impulse that is hard to resist-the desire to read the book cover to cover. It is both a fascinating story of a brilliant researcher at work and a recipe for how to change one's life."
    Timothy Wilson, Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia, author of Redirect
  • "Expansive, eye-opening...All of the anecdotes here, not to mention the entire chapter on practical applications, provide insight into how we can maximize our willpower¾without overextending its potential....To be human is to grapple with the will: this stimulating books encourages us to make mindful decisions."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Mischel uses his impressive experience along with others' related research in the field to explore the nature-and nurture-of willpower. He explains simply and elegantly the complex neural and cognitive components that affect our ability to self-regulate."
  • "This masterwork is a profound and inspiring exploration of the essential question of how we struggle to regulate our own behavior and how we can more frequently win the battle for self-control."
    David Laibson, Department of Economics, Harvard University

On Sale
Sep 23, 2014
Page Count
336 pages
Little Brown Spark

Walter Mischel

About the Author

Walter Mischel holds the Robert Johnston Niven chair as professor of humane letters in psychology at Columbia University. He is the author of more than two hundred scientific papers as well as the coauthor of Introduction to Personality, now in its eighth edition. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has won the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of APA and the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. He lives in New York.

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