Saturday, March 26, 2011

On "dithering" and...marshmallows?

We've all been watching over the last week as an attempt to define Obama as "dithering" over a decision about Libya has become the narrative of the GOP and some in the media. It doesn't, however, seem to be catching on with the American public. Recently Reuters conducted a poll asking people how they saw Obama. The results:

48 percent: Cautious and consultative
36 percent: Indecisive and dithering
17 percent: Strong and decisive

That 36% is likely representative of the GOP base that is open to any kind of attack on Obama. The rest were forced into a false choice, assuming that being "cautious and consultative" is somehow at odds with being "strong and decisive."

Timothy Egan wrote a great column defending "dithering" and pointed out what the GOP is doing with this one:

The real problem for Republicans is that they are perplexed over what position to take on an issue that defies partisanship. So, Obama’s least-thoughtful critics attack him for thinking.

And Scot Lehigh does a good job of demonstrating the GOP's "adult deficit disorder."

But I suspect that, if we were to take all of these politicians back to when they were about 4 years old, we could have predicted this with something that has been called the Marshmallow Test. Take a look:

From the article linked above:

A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room...

Most of the children were like Craig. They struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than three minutes. “A few kids ate the marshmallow right away,” Walter Mischel, the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the experiment, remembers. “They didn’t even bother ringing the bell. Other kids would stare directly at the marshmallow and then ring the bell thirty seconds later.” About thirty per cent of the children, however, were like Carolyn. They successfully delayed gratification until the researcher returned, some fifteen minutes later. These kids wrestled with temptation but found a way to resist.

The researcher, Walter Mischel, followed up with these children when they were in high school.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

What is obvious from all of this is that the "low delayers" - those who refer to thinking things through as "dithering" - have problems with delayed gratification. It might also explain the problems many on the left have with Obama's long game..."I want my marshmallow NOW!!!!"

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