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A Test Used to Prove that Black and Brown Kids Were Less Intelligent For Decades Has Been Proven Wrong

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The marshmallow test, initiated almost 60 years ago to prove less intelligence and potential between Indian and African children, was proven wrong by a new study.


The old test, executed by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, claimed children who were able to delay gratification and not eat a marshmallow were healthier, got higher SAT scores and earned higher income later on.

Now, New York University’s Tyler Watts and UC Irvine’s Greg Duncan and Hoanan Quan found that social and economic background impacted long-term success, not a child’s ability to use self-control when presented with a marshmallow.

Scientific racism is nothing new. It dates as far back as the 1600s, and includes studies that showed Blacks were a different species than whites. The bias overtime has translated to things like biased SATs, which have limited access to higher education and opportunity, while increasing generational poverty and widened the achievement gap, for people of color.

The new study’s findings showed that kids who ate the marshmallows did so out of necessity — not knowing whether they would have access to food later on. The results might also connect that poor parents give their kids treats to try to make life feel more bearable today, while wealthier families already have guaranteed resources for tomorrow.

The 2017 “Race for Results” report, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, also shows that socio-economic backgrounds have a tremendous impact on children’s success:

“Many children of color are growing up in communities where unemployment and crime are higher; schools are poorer; access to capital, fresh produce, transit and health care is more limited; exposure to environmental toxins is greater; and family supports and services are fewer. These factors prevent children from accessing the network of institutions and resources that make prosperity possible.”

Perhaps this new NYU study will undo some of the inherent bias that persists about the learning potential and future success of children of color.

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