Influencing the Reptilian Brain


Young Katy’s eyes are locked on the treat sitting on the gray metal desk in front of her. It looks like such a tasty morsel. It reminds her of the ones her mom puts in her hot chocolate on cold mornings. She wants to eat it so badly, then she remembers what the man in the lab coat told her.

“If you wait until I get back, you can have two mini-marshmallows.”

He is taking forever. Perhaps she could eat this one now, and then get another one when she returns home? Maybe he isn’t coming back? Maybe when he returns she won’t get anything? She kicks her 4-year-old legs, squirms in her chair, and hums her favorite song with her eyes closed. Then finally she hears the door squeak open behind her.

“Congratulations,” says the man in the lab coat as he casually strolls into the room, “since you were patient, now you get two mini marshmallows. He hands her the two soft treats, and she gratefully gobbles them down.

This same experiment was carried out dozens of times over four decades by Dr. Walter Mischel of Stanford University. There are two very interesting discoveries that were made by Dr. Mischel through this experiment. First, those children who had the will power to hold off and wait for two marshmallows were more successful than those who did not. How much more successful? The studies showed that those children who could wait were more socially competent, self-assertive, and capable of dealing with frustration. In fact, according to Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, where I first heard the story, those patient children also scored on average 210 points higher on their SAT’s. That small marshmallow turns out to be a pretty strong predictor, and to understand why- we need to understand how the brains function. Second, he learned that the survival instinct that pushes children to eat that first marshmallow is a very strong one. So what is going on in the human brain? How can understanding that help us as professionals?

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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