Iso-bored: fruit snack challenge divides the internet

Instagram/Kylie Jenner, Gabrielle Union
Instagram/Kylie Jenner, Gabrielle Union 

It might not be dangerous like the skull-breaker challenge, or downright ridiculous like the time parents were throwing cheese singles at babies, but the latest viral social media trend is still dividing the internet.

Dubbed the "fruit snack challenge," it's a modern twist on the classic Marshmallow test of delayed gratification - one of the most well-known experiments in psychology. 

In the original experiment, conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel, a preschooler sits down, alone, at a table and is presented with a treat (usually a marshmallow) by a researcher. The child is told that the researcher needs to leave the room for a few minutes before being given a simple choice. If they can hold out until the adult returns (around 15 minutes) they can have two marshmallows. If they can't, they only get the one. 

For whatever reason, and let's face it probably peak iso-boredom, parents around the world are conducting this experiment on their kids -  and sharing the results on line. 

Kylie Jenner's little girl, Stormi, had the internet letting out a collective "AWWW" when her mum shared footage of her chanting "patience, patience".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kylie 🤍 (@kyliejenner) on

Meanwhile, Gabrielle Union's daughter Kaavia "failed" when her mum left out her favourite snack and she leapt up immediately to grab one. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gabrielle Union-Wade (@gabunion) on

Some are even testing their pets ...

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A post shared by Miracle Watts (@miraclewatts00) on

But while it's lead to commenters praising Kylie Jenner's parenting and chuckling at Gabrielle Union's cute toddler, others are unimpressed. 

In an article for The Takeout, Marnie Shure jokes of the challenge, "who needs testing rooms and control groups when you've got social media posts? Now, everyone's a Stanford researcher creating piles of data!"

But it's not the experiment itself she's worried about. "Mostly, it's just kind of a bummer to notice in video after video just how many of the kids spot the phone conspicuously filming them; even the preverbal toddlers tend to understand that this means Mommy and Daddy are watching, the presence of the camera insisting upon some sort of performance. It's not a lesson in delayed gratification, or self-control, or listening to authority figures—it's a reminder that if you act cute enough, you'll be rewarded with both fruit snacks and an audience of internet strangers."

Those critical of the experiment, point to the fact that a new study published in 2018 in  Psychological Science, basically revealed that whether your kid "passed" or "failed"  the task didn't really mean anything in terms of their future success. 

Dr Tyler Watts of New York University and his colleagues analysed data, which replicated the original test, using a much bigger and more diverse sample - 918 children drawn from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. (In an interview with The Atlantic, Mischel himself admitted that the original Stanford nursery population was "an unbelievably elitist subset of the human race").

Dr Watts and his team found that while being able to resist temptation was related to better maths and reading skills as adolescents, the link was small. "We found that kids who were able to wait longer on the test did have higher achievement scores in adolescence, but most of this relationship faded once we accounted for background characteristics," he told Essential Kids at the time. "This suggests that once you account for characteristics of the child and their family, delay of gratification has a relatively minor influence on later achievement." They also failed to find any evidence of a link between holding out for that second marshmallow and later behaviours or personality measures.

His advice to mums and dads was clear: "If I was a parent, and my child was not able to pass the marshmallow test at age four, I wouldn't be too concerned."

Psychologist and school counsellor Jocelyn Brewer agrees, telling Essential Baby that marshmallow tests or similar measures of delaying gratification have been shown to be ineffective at predicting anything except poverty.

"Personally I think these types of 'tests' are problematic (on many levels) as they assume there is a pass/fail and that this predicts something more sinister than that  a small human is unlikely to have the brain architecture to understand delaying gratification," she said. In addition, according to Brewer, some just might not be motivated for the reward.

But that's not the only problem with the tests.

"For me also there is the issue of children's right in the digital space and the praising/shaming that comes with obsessively capturing and comparing them in for everyone to see. I would love to see parents more actively being stewards of their kids' privacy.