As it turns out, no matter how unlikely it may seem, your 7-year-old nephew with the iPad might be more successful than you one day.
At least that's what the findings of John Protzko, a postdoctoral scholar from the University of California, Santa Barbara, would indicate. He analyzed 50 years of replications of the iconic marshmallow study and concluded that children, generation after generation, are growing increasingly better at delaying gratification, an established predictor of success down the line.
In the task, which has been conducted time and time again since its invention by psychologist Walter Mitchel in 1968, Protzko tells CNBC Make It that a child is given three pieces of his favorite candy by an experimenter.
The experimenter then leaves the room, but not before telling the child that if he can wait for him to return, he can eat two of them. If the child can't wait, he can ring a bell to signal the experimenter to come back and only have one. (Some kids just eat the marshmallows right away—none are older than 10).
How long the child can wait indicates how well he can delay gratification. And apparently, over time, kids are getting better and better at holding out for that second piece of candy.
Notably, there are a number of variations of this test, many of which offered interesting insights, like one where children are supposed to pretend that they are Superman or another where kids are given art supplies by experimenters they feel various levels of trust with. "But we don't use that data," says Protzko. He stuck to the single version of the experiment.