We like to think that, for the most part, who we are is based on life experience, hard knocks and good old-fashioned attitude. Sure, genetics plays a part, but ultimately it's your own choices that matter -- you're not "destined" to be anything.
But science, as it usually does, has some surprising and kind of scary things to tell us. Apparently, no matter what kind of life you lead, scientists can still figure out who you'll be at 30 based on who you were as a toddler. Studies show ...
6If a 4-Year-Old Is Patient, He or She Will Be a Successful Adult
In the 1960s, a Stanford psychologist basically tortured 653 4- to 6-year-old kids by putting candy in front of them and telling them not to eat it. In the process, he may have unlocked the entire secret to a successful life.
The experiment went like this: The children were placed in front of a plate of treats like marshmallows and Oreos and told that they had a choice -- they could either choose one treat right away, or get two treats later. All they had to do to double their treats was sit alone with the candy for 15 minutes while the researcher left the room. It was testing their ability to delay gratification.
"Candy now always beats candy later."
Naturally, most of the kids at least attempted to wait, but when left alone, they began sweating and seizing like heroin addicts. Most of them cracked and went on a sugar-devouring rampage. Only about 30 percent were able to hang in there for the whole 15 minutes. And those kids wound up being more successful in life.
They found this out with a follow-up study on those same kids, and learned that the impatient children were more likely to be stressed, found it harder to maintain friendships and had lower SAT scores. The SAT scores of the kids who delayed gratification for the full 15 minutes were, on average, 210 points higher, and their parents described them as "significantly more competent." Though at this stage, it could still theoretically be chalked up to the brain-destroying power of marshmallow overconsumption.
"I'm about to get ten kinds of stupid all up in this mofo."
Then, in their 30s, the patient kids were living Leave It to Beaver-like lives of happiness and success, and the impatient kids were more likely to be fat, unhappy drug addicts. So the researchers decided to scan their subjects' brains to see what was going on up there. Apparently, the patient subjects had a lot of prefrontal cortex activity, meaning they had greater control over social behavior and planning. The scans of the impatient kids showed more activity in the ventral striatum, the portion of the brain commonly linked with addiction.
So, if you want to predict the futures of the 4- to 6-year-old children in your life, tell them to not eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes. If they don't eat it, continue pumping cash into their college funds. If they do, just go ahead and buy that speedboat you've always wanted.
Use it to flee the greedy crotchspawn you unleashed upon the world.
5Babies Fed on Demand Are More Likely to Be Smart
So, now that you're familiar with the above test, you might think that this means good parents will teach their kids to wait for their food, damn it! If they're not born with the ability to delay gratification, then you'll delay it for them! That'll teach the little bastards!
Nope. While conventional wisdom says that giving kids what they want, whenever they want, is the best way to create terrible humans, research says otherwise -- at least when we're talking about infants. Babies who are fed on their own terms (i.e., "whenever they start crying") have IQs up to five points higher at age 8 than babies who are fed according to a set schedule. They also do better on their SATs -- the effect lasts right through their teens.
The exact moment destiny determines who is and who isn't a crack whore.
And this was a huge study, too -- 10,419 children all together. The Institute for Social and Economic Research found that "schedule-fed babies performed around 17 percent of a standard deviation below demand-fed babies in standardized tests at all ages, and four points lower in IQ tests at age 8 years."
And yes, before you ask, this proved still to be true after the study had corrected for socially disadvantaged kids and mothers who couldn't afford to feed their kids until they started trying to eat the bars of their cribs. In fact, poor kids scored the same advantage as rich kids who were just as demanding.
"Look, I can use this to order some food, or I can just start eating the money itself. I'm a baby, I don't give a fuck."
Author and psychologist Penelope Leach says it has to do with the development of the baby brain, which is in the early stages of learning how to communicate with other humans. At that age, the "Crying for food equals I get food" lesson and bonding with mom are more important than the "Life is a cruel bitch that laughs at my desires" lesson that will inevitably be taught later.