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Shri Mataji and small childThere was a study done in the 1960s which illustrates the nature of left-sided, right-sided and centred tendencies in children. The study, called “The Marshmallow Test”, was intended to shed light on the nature of emotional self-control. Initiated by the psychologist Walter Mischel, the study involved a number of four-year-old children.

Each child had a marshmallow put down in front of them. They were allowed to eat the marshmallow when the experimenter left the room, but if they waited until his return, they could have two marshmallows! The experimenter then left for up to twenty minutes. A number of the children were simply unable to hold out, and ate the single marshmallow. Others, however, were able to delay eating it, in favour of having the double treat upon the experimenter’s return.

What was remarkable, however, was that, twelve to fourteen years later, the children who were unable to hold out had developed many traits of the left side. They tended to shy away from social contacts, to be indecisive, to be easily upset by frustrations, to see themselves as unworthy, and to still be unable to put off self-gratification.

Of the children who resisted the temptation of the single marshmallow, we find two distinct groups: those whom we would call right-sided; and those who were more centered. Those of the right side, when tracked down in adolescence, were characterised by self-assertiveness; they embraced challenges, pursued goals, were quick to take the initiative and were often aggressive. Those who were of the centre, who were also able to withstand temptation in the Marshmallow Test, were characterised as self-reliant, confident, trustworthy and dependable.

Where the left-sided child is simply unable to resist, and the right-sided child has to exercise strong self-control, the centred child remains detached, distancing himself or herself for as long as is required, doing so with little effort. Such a child neither implodes nor explodes in the face of difficulty, but responds to it with an appropriate attitude that best serves themselves and those around them.

Brian Bell

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