Category: Behaviorism

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Book Review: The Marshmallow Test

00Behaviorism, Career, Child Development, Cognition, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Self-Control June, 16

Source: Jørgen Schyberg on flickr

Walter Mischel, a psychologist best known for the Marshmallow Test, produced his first book at the age of 84.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control hit bookshelves in the fall of 2014, and became an instant media sensation. Part memoir and part scientific analysis of Mischel’s work on self-control, the book reviews research on the Marshmallow Test, which he first carried out at Stanford University, and which has since been replicated around the world.

The Marshmallow Test is a way of assessing children’s capacity for delaying gratification and resisting temptation. Children are placed in a room by themselves and given one marshmallow. An experimenter explains that if the child waits 15 minutes, they will receive a total of two marshmallows to eat. If they don’t wait, they’ll receive only one. After the experimenter leaves the room, the child is observed through a one-way mirror or recorded. The longer a child is able to wait, the greater the ability to delay gratification.

Many videos of children taking the Marshmallow Test have been posted to YouTube, often showing amusing coping strategies children use to maintain restraint. The Marshmallow Test has been so widely popularized that even the Wall Street Journal referred to it in assessing a proposed budget by U.S. president Barack Obama.

In his book, Mischel looks at the correlation between outcome on the test at age 5 or 6 with social skills and academic performance later in life. Results show that children who are able to wait longer for two marshmallows have better social skills and higher academic test scores. The book provides several explanations for this phenomenon, including the possibility that the Marshmallow Test accesses characteristics, such as delay of gratification, that are related to developing positive social skills and performing well academically later on.

For those seeking a step-by-step guide to improve self-control and achieve higher grades, this is not the right book. Mischel discusses theoretical concepts and summarizes research. Although he integrates many personal narratives to add a human touch, the book is not meant as a guide to self-improvement.

With critical and thorough analysis, Mischel instead explains how genetic, environmental, and social factors can impact self-control. He emphasizes that self-control is not predetermined or universal across all areas of an individual’s life. Someone who shows a great deal of control in academia may struggle to show that same level of control when overcoming problem drinking.

Making the content more personal, Mischel often incorporates his own challenges with overcoming a nicotine addiction and how his research was often affected by observations of his own children.

Empowerment is another important issue discussed throughout the book. In one section, Mischel refers to his time as a trainee in a clinical psychology doctoral program, recalling how he watched his mentor, George Kelly, work with an extremely anxious woman. The woman had asked Dr. Kelly, “Am I falling apart?” to which he replied, “Would you like to?”

Using this case, Mischel shifts the focus from the Marshmallow Test and how it might predict future action to how perceived self-control can impact demonstrated self-control. This is an idea that Mischel calls the ‘The Engine of Success.’

The idea is that there are essential resources nurturing and cultivating self-control. Mischel explains this theory through the case of George, a student completing his bachelor degree on a full scholarship at Yale University.

At the age of nine, George was enrolled in a KIPP school, which is an American charter school. Mischel explains how such schools attempt to integrate self-control, self-discipline, brain development, and delay of self-gratification into their curriculum. He emphasizes the need for more schools like this.

Although the original Marshmallow Test predicts a specific type of self-control in later life, Mischel stresses that self-control is fluid. Taking control of any area of your life, he suggests, starts with asking the very question George Kelly asked his client: Would you like to?

– Genevieve Hayden, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

When a Parent is Incarcerated

When a Parent is Incarcerated

00Behaviorism, Child Development, Featured news, Law and Crime, Parenting, Trauma May, 15

Source: Restless Mind / Flickr

The wildly popular television drama Breaking Bad followed the evolution of a high school chemistry teacher and father turned drug kingpin.  The series came to an explosive end in the Fall of 2013; shows like this often end when the protagonist-criminal’s story ends.

But from a mental health standpoint, just as this occurs new stories begin, particularly for the family.

When parents are arrested or convicted their children face many challenges, one of the most important being the disruption of parent-child attachment.  Research shows that parent-child attachment directly affects cognitive and behavioural development in children, and this disruption can lead to social and behavioural problems later in life.

When a parent goes to prison, young children often develop emotional responses such as sadness, fear and guilt as a reaction to the parent’s incarceration.

These emotional reactions can turn into severe behavioural problems, triggering conflicts between the child and others.  Many children of incarcerated parents develop feelings of anger and aggression, leading to failed friendships in school.  Some may also become depressed and anxious, bringing academic and social challenges.

The child’s attachment to caregivers is important in the development of what psychologists call social cognition (the study of how our thoughts and perceptions of others affect how we think, feel and interact in our everyday life).  Our earliest thoughts about others are learned through our parents.  Children raised without a sufficient parent-child interaction may lose this important experience.  The child may have a difficult time socially, often when they approach adolescence.

The media tend to overlook children of criminals.  In 2005, it was estimated that more than 2.3 million children in the U.S. had a parent in prison.  How can children in this position be helped?

A two-step process, adapted by education professor Glen Palm of St. Cloud State University and the Inside-Out Connections Project, was developed to decrease these children’s odds of developing negative behaviours.

Step 1: Understanding and Awareness

When a parent is incarcerated, the child’s remaining caregivers often don’t know if or how they should explain the parent’s absence to the child.  Once a child understands the situation, they are more likely to adapt to the changes in their life in a positive way.

Clinical psychologist Deonisha Thigpen’s book When a Parent Goes to Prison helps explain incarceration to a younger audience.  It defines what breaking the law is, presents easy-to-understand definitions regarding the justice system, and even provides support to children by explaining that they are not the only one who is experiencing this situation.

And popular children’s television shows like Sesame Street have developed episodes for children with incarcerated parents.  They provide a visual explanation that helps to explain incarceration and how children can eventually explain it to their peers.

Step 2: Visiting the Incarcerated Parent

Once a child understands incarceration and what it means for them, they may be able to visit their parent in prison.  Prison visitations are often portrayed on television and in film, but reality often differs.

Visitors may have to wait an extended period of time before seeing an inmate, which can be challenging when visiting with young children.  Sometimes families of inmates wait for hours, to discover the visiting request has been denied.  When a visit is granted, most correctional facilities have large visiting rooms shared between many inmates and visitors, limiting close parent-child interaction.

A more viable prison visitation program for nurturing a parent-child bond is filial play therapy.  It is only an option for inmates who are not sex offenders and who have not committed any serious violations at their institution.  Once accepted into the program, they are taught how to create a safe and open environment with their child.  Then they meet with their child for one hour a week in a private setting, utilizing these new skills.

Play therapist, Garry Landreth, of the University of North Texas, believes that filial play therapy improves a child’s self-worth and self-esteem, despite the parent’s incarceration.  After a 10-week study, Landreth found that the children began to see themselves as more capable and valuable individuals.

Of course it’s fair to expect convicted criminals to pay for their crimes.  But no child should have to suffer for their parent’s mistakes by being left to grow up on their own.

And when those we incarcerate leave children behind, we’d be wise to consider the kind of future we want for the next generation.  Perhaps a future that gives a shot at something better…for their sake, and for ours.

– Alessandro Perri, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today