The Scientist Who Taught Cookie Monster Self-Control Has A Warning For Congress

WASHINGTON — Among the characters on Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is perhaps the most simplistic. That furry guy loves freshly baked chocolate chip treats so much, he can’t help but violently stuff them into his big blue face.

But in 2012, something weird started happening to his consumption habits. Cookie Monster began practicing self-control, or at least trying to. In one episode, he told himself that the cookie was a yo-yo and smelled bad, in the hope of curbing his cravings to prove his worth to the exclusive Cookie Connoisseurs Club. Elsewhere, he recorded a song, set to Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care, I Love It,” in which he grapples with the difficulties of resisting temptation.

The new disposition appeared to be a nod by Sesame Street executives towards addressing childhood obesity — First Lady Michelle Obama’s gastronomical dogmatism finding its way to our innocent childhood characters. In reality, these executives were taking cues from a scientific research project that predates the Obama administration by four decades. The man who helped them mold Cookie Monster’s new persona is behind one of the of the best-known psychological tests of the past century.

The so-called marshmallow test, first started in the ’60s, is a seminal psychological study in which young children are given the choice of eating one treat immediately or waiting patiently for two. The research showed that self-control isn’t a matter of willpower — as was and still is popularly believed — but rather a cognitive skill. This simple finding has had profound impacts, influencing everything from teaching curriculums to parenting philosophies to behavioral economics and, ultimately, public broadcasting.

On Thursday night, the marshmallow test’s creator, the famed researcher Walter Mischel — who consulted PBS on its gluttonous blue monster — and —> Read More