Jonah Lehrer, marshmallows and the problem of self-control

The science writer Jonah Lehrer has an interesting article on self-control in next week’s issue of the New Yorker (“The Secret of Self-control”, New Yorker, May 18 2009). Lehrer rehearses the same scientific study I mentioned in Cyburbia, theĀ  famous experiment in the late 1960’s in which Stanford’s Professor of Psychology Walter Mischel gave marshmallows to little children and promised them more if they waited to eat them while he went away on an errand. Many of them simply tucked in to what they had. In the book, I interview neuroscientists who suggest that the constant game of electronic instruction and feedback which we perform on our mobile phones and electronic mice can improve our productivity, but that too much button-pressing can also inhibit our self-control and slow down our ability to concentrate on the task in hand. The danger is that we end up infantilised, and unable to get anything done.