Category Archives: Rochester

3 faces of Rochester’s social media geekery.

Having spent the better part of three years actively participating in social networking in Rochester, I begin to see a pattern emerge whenever something really big happens. Whether it’s the Park Avenue Festival (big, but annual) or Barack Obama coming to town, we basically have three faces we like to show the public whenever Awesome Event X happens.

There are of course more faces than three. And no one person fits into one face all the time. But there is a consistent triumvirate, nevertheless, as predictable in its presence as it is in its temperament. I thought I’d outline them here for the sake of discussion.

The Sunny Optimist

Here’s an Instagram of a receipt for SPF1000 Rochester-approved sunscreen! Because it is #AwesomeToBeAlive when #EventX is happening! So cool, man.

This irrepressible soul wants to share their enthusiasm for all things Event X, no matter how trivial or meaningless. The Sunny Optimist knows that stuff like this doesn’t happen every day and you have to make the most of it. There is no countervailing fact or inconvenient truth that cannot be swept under the rug for the sake of enjoying ourselves in this, our most blessed moment. Cheer up, everybody! It’s Event X!!

The Chain-smoking Ennui-ite

For chrissakes, people. Its just the frickin’ #EventX. Who really cares? All this does is screw up traffic, and I’m late for a proctology exam.

Oh, this weary world of “special” events. Nothing ever changes for the CSE. Even when change happens, it happens exactly as they thought it would. Big deal. And anyway, the Ennui would like to point out that everything about this event is a sham in the first place. And all of the people gushing over it are just stupid. And they wish they could just ignore all this annoying Event X traffic, but how? Shut off Twitter and Facebook? That’s crazy talk. Oh, this awful world.

The Boy (or Girl) Who Lost Their Balloon

Why can’t anyone be happy that #EventX is happening? Why, oh, why, oh WHY??

This might be thought of as “the sweet spot” of Rochester social media event thinking. This person is 100% on-board with Event X. He or she truly wants to be part of the fun.

Sadly, they simply. can. not. It seems that others in the crowd, whom Lost Balloon deems insufficiently joyful, have prevented their happiness.

That there are people who disagree with or question their otherwise-boundless joy is so upsetting to them, that they feel the need to call out – usually in generic and unspecific terms – everyone who can’t seem to see how awesome Event X is. They have to take time out of their busy schedule of frolicking in the wonderfulness of Event X to get pissed off at everyone else ruining their good time.

If every staffer on Barack Obama’s bus tour opted to block the #roc and #POTUSroc hashtags, you could hardly blame them. But like it or not, Rochester’s gotta be what we are. And even when we’re bitching, we do with hysterical style. So, there’s that.

5 magazines you can buy at Wegmans instead of Rolling Stone

Wegmans has announced that because Rolling Stone chose to do a cover story on one of the accused Boston Bombing suspects, they will not be stocking the latest RS issue. Rather than let people chose to buy or not buy a controversial magazine, Wegmans has chosen to take matters into their own hands.

But never fear, Wegmans Shoppers! Just because you don’t get to see bombing suspects on the cover of your favourite magazine in your favourite store, that doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere else to lust after violence. Wegmans has a magazine rack just filled to the brim with all sorts of illustrated violence to choose from. Don’t believe me?

Here, then, are five mags I found while quickly searching the racks at the Calkins Road store, right here in Wegman’s backyard of Rochester, NY. Five out of a legion of similar magazines, all under the amusing fig leaf category of “hunting and fishing.” Five samples of “violence you can feel good about” because Wegmans approved them and not the current issue of Rolling Stone.

Five magazines I discovered at eye level in the Wegmans magazine racks that are guaranteed to get your “Guns ‘n Boner” goin:

Handgunner Magazine

Handgunner Magazine. Paging Dr. Freud…

Honestly, as gun magazines go, this is a pretty tame one. But you’ve gotta love the headline right there at the top of the magazine: “Fist vs. .45ACP” Who do you think will win?

As you go through these gun magazines, you will see one common theme, which is that the gun is quite commonly pointed with the barrel towards you. At the risk of being too Freudian, they always seem to be pointed down at your crotch. I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

Among the other gems we have for headlines are “Stopping Power: Equipment or Caliber?” and my favourite “The Nuclear Option.”

Shotgun News

Shotgun News: because guns need broom handle stocks, of course!

Still on the more tame side of things, Shotgun News Magazine even manages to not point the gun at my cock, which I really appreciate. Still: broom handles?

Broom handles are modified Mauser pistols developed for the German Army as a means to extend a gun that was designed to be a pistol into something that looks and functions a bit more like a rifle. You can’t use it to sight in a target like a normal rifle and you won’t really be able to handle it like a normal pistol, either.

In other words, you can’t hunt with it and you can’t use it as a concealed weapon. Then why bother?

The point is to have a gun you can use to spray targets with. Hold it like an old gangster’s Tommy gun and just start blasting away. No, nothing says the things you spray with lead necessarily need to be innocent bystanders. Nothing says that at all.

 Black Guns 2014

Black Guns 2014. Um. Black is beautiful…

… and if you’ll look off to the left, you’ll see the entrance to Crazy Town..

Now we’re getting into the genuinely gnarly stuff. No pretense about hunting, history or range shooting or sharp shooting. Just straight up “black guns,” because black is awesome.

Displaying the benchmark of gun nut couture, this magazine features laser sights, huge banana clips, euphemistic “Home Defense Carbines,” because you need that kind of thing.

Personal and Home Defense Magazine

Home Defense. This woman is clearly in a defensive position. Note the direction of the barrel…

No, it’s not quite “Guns and Hooters Illustrated,” but it’s pretty close. Personal and Home Defense magazine doesn’t make the smallest attempt at subtlety. It just leaps right off the stand and grabs your limbic system with both hands.

“DON’T BE A VICTIM!” It screams at you while a woman points that barrel right back down at your cock again. Because in gun culture, there are only victims and people with guns, evidently. Actually, her gun has three barrels? With a laser pointer, like she needs it? #overkill

Yes, this magazine is all about “defending yourself.” You can learn all about knife counterattacks, escaping choke holds and “active shooter response tactics.” Where do you live that you need this kind of information?

I don’t want to be a Gloomy Gus, here. But it does really seem like all of these are handy tactics to have in your arsenal if you are the “active shooter,” not for peaceful citizens. The whole cover reads like another euphemism for fetishized, fantasized violence.

GUNS and Weapons Magazine

GUNS and Weapons Magazine. Crossing your legs will not help.

I capitalized the first word, because that appears to be the way they identify themselves to their readers. If you’re comfortable with the idea of “home defense” as a euphemism, GUNS and Weapons invites you further down the paranoid rat hole to learn “7 SWAT Entry Survival Tactics.”

That’s right. Seven ways to survive entering a building with your gun. We’re way off the home defense tip, now.

But don’t stop there. Read up on “Justified Lethal Force,” an article that is just sure to have been written by a competent defense attorney. Or feed your siege mentality with “Ambushed and Under Fire,” the story of how a “hail of bullets stops a would-be cop killer.”

Oh, did I mention that this magazine is “For Law Enforcement?”

It’s right there in itty-bitty text at the top, about a third of the size of the cover story text.

Send us more!

There must be lots of other magazines in other stores that I’ve missed. I was only on lunch break, after all. So if you find a good one in the Wegmans magazine rack, why not post it here in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook?

The Butterfly Effect in East Rochester

There we both stood, eyeing electrical equipment at the Fairport Wegmans. I was looking for a non-ground converter for an extension cord. My neighbor was kind enough to let us siphon their electric while we waited for power to be restored. She was puzzling over the battery-operated lanterns on the small shelf of assorted items.

“You’re in East Rochester, too, then?” I asked, feeling the need to help the woman who seemed to be asking herself questions aloud in lieu of asking me.

“Yes, isn’t it terrible? We have power, but my old neighbor is the one who couldn’t breathe,” she informed me, as though this was common knowledge. This is, after all, East Rochester.

“Wait. Couldn’t breath?”

Car crushed under the weight of a tree that completely covered Main St.

In the aftermath of the accident on Main Street in ER that claimed the life of one man and sent another to Strong, the resulting lack of power left one elderly woman on Main without the necessary power to run her oxygen pump.

The result was a second crisis in which the Fire Department was able to find a cobbled-together solution for the oxygen, but the woman was left without lights. Hence her life-long neighbor found herself chatting with a random stranger over lanterns and power adapters.

It was yet another unforeseeable consequence of a completely random incident that most of the Rochester area will know very little of.

After a spring marked by several reasonably powerful storm systems and a recent bout of high winds, one of the very large and stately trees that line the quiet Main Street of East Rochester suddenly gave way. Without warning, the entire tree crashed to the ground, crossing Main as it did so. Two unfortunate men drove the car that would find itself in its path.

At our house some distance from the accident, the whole thing registered as a sudden flicker of all our house appliances and lights and a gentle thump beneath my feet. How strange it is to realize that thump I felt – one gentle enough that I thought it might have been the fan on our boiler heat turning on and off with the power fluctuation – was the end of another man’s life.

Stranger still to think that, had these two men talked to a friend for fifteen seconds more or fifteen seconds less; had they chosen Lincoln Ave or Garfield instead of Main Street; had any other of a near infinite number of butterfly wings beat their randomizing effect on this day instead of the ones that did, both of these men would be in one piece.

Perhaps appropriately enough in this case, the term “The Butterfly Effect” comes to us from the world of meteorology. It refers to the many ephemeral causes from which weather gets its many unpredictable effects. But that concept extends well beyond the realm of meteorology, especially in a tiny little community like East Rochester.

Throughout the day, facts were confused, conversations were misdirected and stories got lost. But in a universe still exploding from its Big Bang birth on a rock that couldn’t sustain life without its still-cooling center, it was the randomness of that moment that stuck with me when I woke up this morning.

Chester Shrugged

Chester Cab Pizza is closing.

Well, no. Not really. But that didn’t stop the owner from announcing as much online and causing a minor freak out on Twitter and elsewhere:

https://twitter.com/angelahong13/status/309805270530416641

That tweet got lots of reactions, including a retweet from myself. Why wouldn’t it? Chester Cab has been a fixture on Park Avenue since the early 80’s. This isn’t Angela Hong’s fault, either. The press release, which is also posted to the front page of their website, intimates pretty clearly that Chester Cab is closing:

It is with a heavy heart that owner and founder of Park Avenue’s Chester Cab Pizza is slinging his last pizza. The store, located at 707 Park Ave, had just surpassed its 30th year in business.

Note the use of the past-tense “had just surpassed..” What a silly mix-up that was, huh? But all is not well among the Captains of Pizza. Alas:

Nielsen states that even though sales have been steady, “…it is the rising expenses that took us to the point of unprofitability. In past years, I have noticed that our margins were going down but decided to keep the business afloat for better days to come.”

Uh-oh. George is getting upset.

In the rest of the third-party voiced press release of a single small business owner, “Nielson states” his many memories of slinging pies in Rochester are fond ones. But… (rrrrrumble!! dark clouds on the horizon!!):

“I probably could keep Chester Cab Pizza going for a while more. But when I see the mandates that businesses will be required to comply with by 2014, I figure those would be the mandates that would break the camel’s back. So why wait, my work is done. Why delay the inevitable?”

Oh. My. God. This is all President Obama’s fault! President Obama is putting your favourite overpriced pizza with a remarkably small delivery circle through a death panel!!!

Well, no. Not really.

It turns out that, despite the hand-wringing, concern-trolling presser, Nielson fails to state that he’s not actually shuttering the place.

He’s selling it.

Most likely at a profit.

To the manager, who if he knows anything about the place he’s worked for what we can imagine is at least a few years, probably knows that he can keep the old pig running for a few more years.

To recap: the owner of Chester Cab Pizza, among the most storied pizza places in Rochester; also the owner of Sticky Lips BBQ, easily the second and possibly the first most popular BBQ joint in Rochester; who opened another store in Henrietta under the evil and gluttonous gaze and thrice-cited “mandates” of the jack-booted Obama Administration thugs in 2004; this man is selling one of his businesses for a profit.

Forgive me if I’m having a difficult time drawing a comparison to Wyatt’s Torch, here.

About the only comparison to be drawn between Wyatt’s Torch and Chester Cab’s closing-that-is-not-a-closing is that they both represent remarkably childish, anti-social and demonstrative responses to a world your mama could have told you ain’t fair. They’re both high-flying public hissy fits, both absurd on their face, and both aimed more at publicity than at solutions to the supposed problems Wyatt and Nielson seem to think they have.

The difference is that Wyatt did everyone the favour of getting the fuck out of town and joining Ayn Rand’s socialist paradise under glass. (You read me right: each according to their means, each according to their needs. Think about it) “Nielson states” that he’s going off to some far away land, only to use that highly-public freakout as a demonstration of Chester Cab’s value. And as free advertisement for all his properties, courtesy of Angela Hong, myself, most likely you, 13WHAM and god only knows how many more. And boom! Free soapbox for his fever-ridden political beliefs as an abused “job creator.”

Enjoy your free advertisement, asshole. Pardon me whilst I shrug. Me and John Gault are getting shitfaced at Dinosaur BBQ tonight.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, a present for Rochester and Mayor Richards

Ever notice that whoever wrote the “12 Days of Christmas” song had a severe bird fetish? At least six of these 12 days of true love gift giving are bird related, and possibly more. History has debated that the fifth day’s gift of “five golden rings” actually referred to ring-necked pheasants, not fancy finger jewelry. So! There we have it. The first seven days of the 12 Days of Christmas are birds, equaling a grand total of 28 birds from your true love.

Um, thanks?

Culturally, we may not typically celebrate 12 days of Christmas anymore, but Rochester is certainly on board with Day 4, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Day 4 is another commonly misinterpreted verse to the 12 Days song, with many singing “four calling birds” when in fact, it is actually “four colly birds.” Okay, well that’s all fine and good, but what the heck is a colly bird? According to our good friends at Wikipedia, colly bird is the old-fashioned term for a black bird. Merry Christmas, Rochester, indeed!

The crows are back in town, and they’re back with a vengeance.  Earlier in the year, the city put forth extensive creative and technological efforts to disperse crows from downtown areas, however, the colder weather has brought them back, much to the city’s chagrin. Earlier this week, wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture began their most recent attempts to chase the overwhelming amount of crows out of Washington Square Park, which, on Sunday’s count, clocked in with over 25,000 crows.

The USDA has been working through the night using non-harmful techniques such as spotlights and pyrotechnics to rid the crows, however, these colly birds aren’t leaving without a fight. Several crows have flown away or moved to other trees while others have barely budged. Back in February, we reported that crows have an uncanny sense of memory – perhaps they’re calling our bluff?

According to USDA wildlife biologist Mark Carrara, these things take time and will decrease gradually, comparing the techniques to pet training, which may not be such a far-fetched comparison. For whatever reason, these crows do seem to believe they’ve found a home in Rochester. Perhaps Rochester should be more selective when choosing its “true love” next year, or at least one that blesses us with better gifts. In the meantime, happy eleven months of the fourth day of Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Need cash? Sneeze on a boffin. It pays!

It’s that time of year again: the season in which the University of Rochester exchanges quick cash (for you and your whole family!) in exchange for research into why you feel so shitty. It’s a sweet deal, if you can stand going to a hospital four times in the next month.

The U of R has released a presser announcing that anyone who comes down with a flu virus who qualifies can get $25 cash money for showing up to the hospital to let a boffin poke them. If anyone else in your household is also sick, they want them too! Same deal, $25 per visit.

The research is part of a collaborative effort from the awesomely-named New York Influenze Center of Excellence, made up of researchers from the U of R, Cornell and quite inexplicably, the University of Tennessee.

Excellence!

the research is part of the NYICE’s broader mandate to analyze the pathogenesis of flu viruses. This means the route by which infection happens and the life-cycle of the flu while it is in an infected host.

Bonus Excellence:  The NYICE website also links to an article interviewing a “metaphysical healer” named Louise L. Hay who suggests that, if you’d like to avoid sneezing on boffins, your best defense is a positive attitude. I have no idea how this gets linked to from that website. But there you have it.

Does quitting smoking ease back pain? U of R study

Scientists are often fond of saying “correlation does not prove causality.” That meaning: just because two things happen at the same time or in sequence in no way implies that one caused the other. They may simply have coincidentally happened in an order tantalizing us to make hasty assumptions.

I cannot say for certain that the study the University of Rochester released today does or does not display that false sense of causality. But my sense is that much more research is probably necessary. This study followed about 5,000 respondents to a questionnaire about pain after treatment for back issues. The results pretty conclusively correlated less back pain with those who either quit smoking years ago or never smoked, compared to those who currently smoked. However:

Of the 5,333 people, those who had never smoked or had quit some time ago reported less pain than smokers or those who had just quit. By the end of the follow-up period, the people who had recently quit or who quit during treatment showed significant improvements in pain. People who continued to smoke during treatment had no improvement in pain on all scales.

Behrend noted that younger people tended to comprise the group of current smokers and those who only decided to quit during treatment; this is consistent with other studies showing that smoking is associated with degenerative spine disease at a younger age. Older patients tended to comprise the group who had never smoked or quit long ago.

The trouble here is that we’re dealing with two hugely divergent groups of people. To simply say that the fact that they smoke or don’t smoke is one correlated item is to completely under cut all the other vastly significant differences between these two groups. For example: those who continue to smoke into old age are probably also making a great deal many more decisions which are not beneficial to their health. And those who quit smoking while still young are probably eager to move on.

When I quit smoking six years or so ago, I swore I’d never be what I always referred to as a “Born Again Non-Smoker.” It is easy, when smoking is such a great scapegoat and straw man, to blame the habit for all the ills of any individual and claim the Holy Grail of health benefits every time something seems to prove a socially agreed-upon conclusion. But this report leaves a whole lot to be desired in the facts department.

Your next pair of contacts may wear better thanks to RIT

There I was, sitting in the chair at a local eye-glass and contacts company, trying my damnedest to get my new contacts in. As a dude, we’re not anywhere near as often playing around with our eyeballs. You ladies have been putting pencils near your orbits since about a year or two before your moms allowed it, don’t lie.

But me? Well, I couldn’t stop blinking the little bastards straight off my finger and away from their intended targets. Eventually, the woman who was “helping” me got frustrated, tipped my head back and put the damned thing in herself in about two seconds. Fully-extended arm, I’m lucky I’m not blind.

For the rest of you, contacts are a must-wear. But they come at a cost to your health: dry eye syndrome is quite common amongst contact lens wearers, in part because contacts can get in the way of the eye’s natural ability to keep itself lubricated. This has to do with the way the contact is formed to sit on your eye, a design process which has until now been done largely as guess-work.

But researchers at RIT aim to change all that with a new set of mathematical algorithms born out of the wizardry known to many as fluid dynamics:

Ross, who researched fluid mechanics with Eastman Kodak Co. before becoming a professor at RIT, says that the research is a new, purely mathematical approach to looking at the tear film of the eye. “We initially envisioned the lens floating in a sea of tear film, when in fact, this is not the case,” Ross says. “The lenses are 100 to 200 microns thick, while the tear film is only 5 microns thick.”

Maki and Ross hope that Bausch & Lomb will eventually be able to implement their research into new design processes for their contact lenses.

So in short, your new contact lenses could very soon make your eyes a whole lot less itchy to wear. Which is a great comfort, especially to those one or two of you who have accidentally fallen asleep with them in…

Don’t stop the spooky! This weekend’s expiry-focused festivities in Rochester

Once again, Halloween has come and gone, but the spooky holidays aren’t over just yet. In fact, we are currently still in the midst of one, or two, depending how you view it. As per Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian tradition (among others),  people across the Western Hemisphere are paying homage to lost loved ones in observances that began yesterday with All Saints Day and continue through today with All Souls Day, more commonly referred to as the Days of the Dead.

While the Halloween we celebrate was not directly influenced by Day of the Dead, it has adopted some of its customs, most notably the enjoyment of sweets, costumes, and macabre icons.  Hurricane Sandy may have put a damper on many youngsters trick-or-treating plans this week, but for those who celebrate Day of the Dead, this holiday represents much deeper roots that could not be canceled or delayed.  Elio Masferrer, an anthropologist who focuses on Mexican religious studies explains,

“In the European-Christian notion of death, our loved ones go far away and we’re left to survive on our own. But in the Mexican case, in Andean countries, the world of the living and the dead co-exist. The living seek help and protection from the dead, especially on Day of the Dead.”

Day of the Dead is viewed by many as a re-encounter with lost loved ones, and, despite its name, is a joyful holiday and celebration of life. Traditional celebrations include picnics in cemeteries, parades, gravestone decorating, and feasts. The most popular symbols associated with Day of the Dead are sugar skulls and marigolds.

Although Day of the Dead celebrations in Rochester are not quite the same, they aren’t nonexistent, either. If you’re looking to get out and about tonight, check out the Outer Body Masquerade Ball tonight at Max of Eastman Place to celebrate Halloween, Masquerade, and Day of the Dead all in one.

Remember – no matter what the retail stores tell you, it’s not Christmas yet, so make the most of this fun and spooky time before Turkey Day while we still can!

 

Remember: fall means hunting season, but hunting season doesn’t have to mean falling.

Hooray for hunting season! Yes, that time of year is once again upon us. Bring on the beer, guns, and climbing birds-eye-view tree stands all before the crack of dawn! Nothing could possibly go wrong with that recipe for disaster, right?

According to URMC, usually not; to be specific, only about 10% of the time do hunters find themselves injured in a given year. Well, that’s not so bad, right? Actually, it’s downright terrible, considering the solution to preventing these injuries is an extremely simple one: wear a safety harness. Sounds easy enough, but how long did it take people to get in the habit of wearing seat belts in the car? For some reason, we humans just don’t like being inhibited by contraptions meant to protect us from life altering – or ending – accidents.

According to Jason Huang, M.D., URMC neurosurgeon specializing in head and spine injuries,

“We are still seeing hunters who have taken unnecessary risks by not wearing the safety belt or harness and endure significant injuries from a fall. Compared to a decade ago, we have made no progress in preventing these neurological injuries, despite safety advances – which is unacceptable.”

In a review of 54 hunting accidents or falls between the years of 2003 and 2011, neurosurgeons saw injuries ranging from cervical spine fractures, traumatic brain injuries, collapsed lungs, internal damage to the spleen, liver, and kidneys, and even paraplegia and quadriplegia. According to Huang, most of these accidents would have been prevented if the hunters had worn a safety harness.

Let’s be honest:  hunting season is a great time! Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, they even close schools and businesses during the first day of each game season because they know everyone wants to participate – but let’s make sure we can all make the most of the day without falling 30+ feet to the hard ground. Remember: if you fall, the deer wins!

New York State testing new ballot-counting system in Monroe County

Wired.com reported last week that two counties in New York State would be participating in a program to test new software by Clear Ballot that speeds election results audits. Clear Ballot indicated that Monroe and Schenectady counties would be participating. The New York State Board of Elections confirmed the Wired article, but  Monroe County officials are unfamiliar with the company and its product.

The United States Election Assistance Commission recently created a grant program to research methods to improve the logistics of Election Day voting, as well as recounts and audits of ballot results. The State of New York Board of Elections was awarded $230,000. The state contracted with Clear Ballot to test its systems for post-election audits.

Via Twitter, I asked Clear Ballot ( @clearballot ) which two counties would be participating in the program. Clear Ballot responded Monroe and Schenectady Counties would be participating:

@dragonflyeye We’re working directly with the NY State Board of Elections, and then Monroe and Schenectady counties.

That tweet has since been removed.

State officials say the new pilot program will not be done with live ballots, but with ballots from this September’s primary elections. The counties of Monroe and Schenectady were selected as test centers because they tally votes using different ballot scanning systems.

Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioner Tom Ferrarese replied via email to my query that they had been contacted about a potential test of a new ballot counting system. But they said they have not heard anything further from the State:

A few months ago the State Board of Elections asked us if we, the Monroe County Board of Elections, would at some point in the future be willing to participate in a pilot testing a new system that would allow us to audit ballots using high speed scanners in an independently programmed system.  We indicated that we would be willing to do so.  Since then, we have heard nothing back from the State Board and are not in communications with the Clear Ballot folks nor were we even aware of their existence.

Mr. Ferrarese further stated that they would not feel comfortable changing their hand-count auditing system for this election cycle, which he says has worked well for the County in the past.

It’s not clear why the state would use Election Day to run tests, if the tests don’t require live ballots. Perhaps Wired.com story got that part of the story wrong.

I contacted Schenectady County Board of Elections officials to find out if they knew anything about Clear Ballot, but they have not yet responded.

U of R redesign of the Marshmallow Experiment proves kids are hip to your bullshit.

Who remembers the famous Marshmallow Study of the late 60s? Maybe it sounds vaguely familiar, but for those of you who recount the 60s with a distinct haze, weren’t born yet, or don’t actively study psychology, I’ll give you a refresher.

The experiment went like this: a group of preschool age children were monitored separately, each being placed directly in front of a fluffy, tasty marshmallow with the promise that if they could wait and not eat the marshmallow now, they would receive two marshmallows later. Over the course of the past four decades, this study has been regarded as a classic experimental measure of children’s self control (or lack thereof).  As time progressed, researchers found that individual differences in the ability to delay gratification with the marshmallow correlated strongly with success in later life, including higher SAT scores, less substance abuse, and better social skills.

Celeste Kidd, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has revisited this study and taken it a step further, finding that the ability to delay gratification is influenced just as much by the environment as by innate ability – meaning that nature as well as nurture are playing equal hands.

Kidd and her research team set up two contrasting environments to split between 28 preschoolers: a reliable environment, and an unreliable environment. In both settings, the children were told twice to wait for something better; first for art supplies, and second for stickers. The difference was the promises were delivered in the reliable environment, while the unreliable environment came up empty-handed both times.  The third promise followed the same steps as the original marshmallow study: wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow, and then receive two marshmallows instead.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task were able to hold out longer – by a lot. The children in the reliable environment were able to wait an average of four times longer than the children in the unreliable environment.  Additionally, only one of the 14 children in the unreliable group waited the full 15 minutes, compared to nine children in the reliable condition.

Previous studies that explored the effect of teaching children waiting strategies showed much smaller effects. This large result provides evidence that wait times do reflect rational decision-making about the probability of a reward.  According to Kidd,

“Being able to delay gratification—in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow—not only reflects a child’s capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting. Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay. If you are used to getting things taken away from you, not waiting is the rational choice.”

However, don’t worry if you try this trick at home with your own kids and they gobble up the marshmallow immediately. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed at being reliable. It just means things are different when you’re the person they’re with day in and day out. And besides – maybe it’s just snack time.