In his famous marshmallow experiments, aimed at testing willpower, four-year-old children were presented with a single marshmallow and told they could either eat it immediately, or wait 20 minutes and then have two. Some children were able to wait, others were not. Mischel monitored each child's progress into adolescence, and reported that those who had resisted temptation were better adjusted psychologically and more dependable; they did better at school, were more socially competent, and had greater self-esteem. Ability to delay gratification seemed to be a better predictor of future success than any previously measured trait.
Mischel's work led to a shift in the study of personality—from how personality predicts behavior to how behavior reveals personality. It also changed the way personality profiling is used in assessing job candidates. Tests that were once considered an accurate basis for staff recruitment are now seen as a guide, to be interpreted in the context of the situations that are likely to arise in doing a job. ▪
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