Have you heard of the marshmallow test? It’s all about delayed gratification. Kids between the ages of 4 and 6 are given a marshmallow, which they are told they can eat right away, but if they wait 15 minutes before eating it, they’ll be given a second marshmallow as a reward. Only about 1/3 of the children were able to delay gratification. And then there’s some sketchy indications that those who could delay gratification were much more successful in later life. (I say sketchy because there are a lot of other factors that can encourage success, such as being born in the right place at the right time to well-connected parents, for example.)
Recently, a similar study was done on 9 month old cuttlefish at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Of course, marshmallows weren’t used in this instance. In this case, they used live shrimp and pieces of raw king prawn. The cuttlefish greatly preferred the live shrimp.
In this study, the cuttlefish were given an option. Do you want the less desirable prawn now, or are you willing to wait a while and get the shrimp instead? (I’m greatly oversimplifying the study. For more details, check out an article entitled, “Cuttlefish can pass the marshmallow test.”)
It turns out that every single cuttlefish could delay gratification and hold out for the shrimp. So they did better than the average 4 to 6 year old human. Fascinating. According to the article, “It’s the first time such a link between self-control and intelligence has been found in a non-mammalian species.”
Isn’t nature awesome?
In fairness to the children, cuttlefish come out of camouflage when they forage, so eating puts them at great risk. It is in their best interest to wait for the optimal time to eat. Their ability to delay gratification probably has a lot to do with their very survival. But if you look into the eyes of a cuttlefish, you can sort of tell that they’re very smart, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt, either.
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