Move over Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, there's a new game in town putting our smarts, or lack thereof, into question -- Are You More Impulsive Than a Literal Cephalopod. This week, a new report entitled Cuttlefish exert self-control in a delay of gratification task was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B illustrating that Cephalopods are actually pretty good at exercising restraint, arguably better than a lot of human children.
"We used an adapted version of the Stanford marshmallow test, where children were given a choice of taking an immediate reward (1 marshmallow) or waiting to earn a delayed but better reward (2 marshmallows)," author Alex Schnell wrote of their practices. "Cuttlefish in the present study were all able to wait for the better reward and tolerated delays for up to 50-130 seconds, which is comparable to what we see in large-brained vertebrates such as chimpanzees, crows and parrots."
Now, for those of you that haven't thought about the marshmallow test since your high school AP psych class, the sweet experiment is designed to measure a child's ability to exert self-control. In running the exam, a child is left alone in a room with a single marshmallow sitting before them. They can choose to either eat the treat while the adult orchestrating the experiment is out of the room or have two if they hold out until their return. While some fail, most choose the latter option, at least according to a recreation of the study with 540 kids between 2002 and 2012. "Close to 60% of the children tested held out the full 10 minutes for a bigger reward. And only about 12% claimed their reward in the first half-minute," The L.A. Times wrote of the findings.
The aquatic version of this study is a little bit more complicated. "At first, the invertebrates were placed in an aquarium leading to two chambers marked with one of three symbols representing immediate gratification, delayed gratification and 'inaccessible,'" the BBC's Science Focus magazine reported of the study "To help them learn the concepts required, the same type of food was added to each chamber. After the cuttlefish had made its 'choice' of prey, the other food was immediately removed."
Once they learned what, exactly was going on, the animals were then able to select which prey they wanted, potentially waiting for a tastier option, as researchers gauged their level of patience by their behavior. "They break camouflage when they forage, so they are exposed to every predator in the ocean that wants to eat them," Schnell wrote. "We speculate that delayed gratification may have evolved as a by-product of this, so the cuttlefish can optimize foraging by waiting to choose better quality food."
So folks, if you're ever feeling down, remember, if you can wait more than 130 seconds for a reward, you are more patient than a cuttlefish. Small Victories!