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In the the 1960s, a Stanford psychologist ran an experiment to study children's self-control.
It's called the marshmallow test. And it's super simple.
Kids ages 3 to 5 choose a treat — an Oreo cookie, a pretzel stick or a marshmallow. Then researchers give the child brief instructions: You can eat the treat now ... but if you can wait for me to return, you'll get two treats.
Now for the first time, there's a study reporting on what happens when psychologists give the marshmallow test to kids outside Western culture, specifically 4-year-old children from the ethnic group Nso in Cameroon.
"The Nso are a community who live off subsistence farming, mainly corn and beans," says Bettina Lamm, a psychologist at the Universitaet Osnabrueck, who led the study. "Most of the children live in mud brick houses without water and electricity. They have to work a lot to take care of younger siblings and help their parents on the farm."
Guess what? These kids rocked the marshmallow test.
The difference was huge," Lamm says. "The Cameroonian kids really behave very differently, and they were able to wait much better."
Lamm and her colleagues ran the experiment on nearly 200 Cameroonian and German kids. The Cameroonian kids were offered a puff-puff — a little doughnut popular there.
Compared to German children in the experiment, the Cameroonian kids waited, on average, twice as long for the second treat. And way more Cameroonian kids — nearly 70 percent — waited the full 10 minutes to snag the second marshmallow. Only about 30 percent of the German kids could hold out, Lamm and her team reported in the journal Child Development in early June.