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Walter Mischel

Written by: Jeannette L. Nolenwalter

Walter Mischel, (born February 22, 1930, Vienna, Austria) American psychologist best known for his groundbreaking study on delayed gratification known as the marshmallow test.”

Mischel was born the younger of two brothers. His father was a businessman. Following the Nazi occupation of Vienna (1938), he and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. Mischel’s parents opened a five-and-dime shop, for which he made deliveries while maintaining various part-time jobs. He was valedictorian of his high-school class and received a scholarship to New York University.

Although he initially enrolled in premedical course work, Mischel redirected his focus toward psychology and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951. Specializing in clinical psychology, he earned a master’s degree from the City College of New York (1953) and a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University (1956). He thereafter held professorships at theUniversity of Colorado (1956–58), Harvard University (1958–62), and Stanford University (1962–82).

In the late 1960s Mischel began a study on delayed gratification—the ability to abstain from instant but less-desirable outcomes in favour of deferred but more-desirable outcomes. The experimenter seated preschool-age children alone at a table with a desired treat such as a marshmallow and, before exiting the room, presented them with a choice: either (1) to ring a bell to call the researcher back and, upon his return, consume the single marshmallow or (2) to wait until the researcher’s voluntary return and be rewarded with not one but two marshmallows. While some children were unable to wait a full minute (“low delayers”), others were able to wait up to 20 (“high delayers”) by employing various distraction techniques (e.g., covering their eyes with their hands, singing, and turning around in their chairs) to avoid looking at the tempting object.

Upon repeating the test, Mischel advised the children to think of the treats as something inedible (e.g., cotton balls), which dramatically improved impulse control. Follow-up studies, conducted later in life via self-report, further showed that high delayers achieved greater academic success (e.g., higher standardized test scores), better health (e.g., resistance to substance abuse), and more-positive relationships (e.g., lower rates of marital separation and divorce). This breakthrough research demonstrated not only that willpower can be learned but also that it seems to be “a protective buffer against the development of all kinds of vulnerabilities later in life,” as Mischel concluded, thereby implying that self-control is key to both academic and personal success.

In 1983 Mischel became a professor at Columbia University. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991) and the National Academy of Sciences (2004). Mischel served as editor of the Psychological Review (2000–03) and president of the Association for Psychological Science (2007–08). In 2011 he won the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology for his work on delayed gratification, self-control, and willpower.

Nolen, J. (n.d.) Enclyclopedia Brittanica, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Mischel


  1. sheyla4801 says:

    I liked his experiment with the marshmallow , I think self impulse can be controlled

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lillyanamayo says:

    I have watched the marshmallow experiment video before! I find this experiment very interesting especially how it shows the kids trying to wait but eventually giving in to the temptation.


  3. Lydia Li says:

    Walter Mischel’s theory is that good things take time when things that are quick are not as great. For instance, people who are willing are patient and will put in a lot of time and effort will be more successful than people who want to take the quick route.


  4. Debbie Ross says:

    Mischel, created the Marshmallow experiment, aka, the delayed gratification. He realized that the outcome of those who delayed themselves later in life had better health, greater success academically and higher concentrations


  5. Harman P Singh says:

    i agree with his theory that behavior depends on the situation given.


  6. andreachavezlopez says:

    Read and understood, his experiment was on kids to see if they were patient.


  7. cindyv85 says:

    I like Mischel theory because this is how you can control your mind and thought and redirect them towards something else.


  8. eguerrieo says:

    Read and understood. His delayed gratification study was interesting.


  9. JingRen says:

    As a student, I agree with Mischel’s theory.


  10. Clarisse Noubissi Tchemwe says:

    I think his theory explain how children can be patient of something that they want.


  11. Fernando L Sousa says:

    Walter Mishel is best known for delayed gratification which is my life philosophy sacrifice today for a better tomorrow .


  12. JESSICA BRUNS says:

    Fist time I read about Mr. Walter. Very interesting student. it shows how to have auto control is important for our life.


    • JESSICA BRUNS says:

      sorry I mean : Fist time I read about Mr. Walter. Very interesting study. it shows how to have self control is important for our life.


  13. ezitterk says:

    I liked this experiment. being explained that self impulse yes can be controlled.


  14. Kiana Jeanniton says:

    I really liked the experiment on the children and understood that some are high and low delayers. I agree that self control is important to success


  15. anthonymansi001 says:

    This was fantastic first time reading about this as well as far as impulse control can be improved, and the students who with held more archived higher academic success .

    Liked by 1 person

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