When I was one year old, I was subjected to my very first multiple choice test. My parents placed four objects in front of me, a pair of weighing scales, a gold coin, a toy hammer, and a book. My future career depended on the choice. If I chose the weighing scales, I would become a lawyer; if I chose the gold coin, I would be a businessman; if I chose the toy hammer, I would be a labourer; and if I chose the book, I would be a scholar. Well, I chose the book, which explains why to this day, I remain a poor scholar. The origin of this Chinese custom can be traced back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 386-589), and it persists to the present day.
Throughout our lives we are set a myriad of tests which can determine our future. Daniel Goleman devised the Marshmallow Test. A four-year-old child was given a marshmallow by the tester. The kid was informed that the tester would leave the room for a few minutes. If, when the tester returned, the marshmallow remained uneaten, the child would be given an extra marshmallow as reward. Many such children were tested and followed up all the way to high school. It was found that those children who could restrain their desire in favour of the greater reward later, were far more successful both socially and academically, compared to those kids who needed instant gratification.
Harvard psychologist, Jerome Kagan, developed a new test for four-month-old babies, as reported by the Boston Globe of 29 August 2004. Kagan showed over 450 children a series of colourful new toys for twenty seconds at a time. Their reactions were noted. There were two main groups of responses. The first were the babies who cried madly and shook their arms and legs, and were referred to as the high reactive infants. The second group consisted of rather subdued children and were dubbed the low reactive infants.
These children were followed up until they reached junior high school. The high reactive group was more likely to have serious anxiety with social interactions. These individuals were shy, sensitive to criticism, preferring to stay at home rather than attend a school dance, and would generally be unhappy with life. Such children were more likely to become brilliant solitary researchers or melancholic poets.
On the other hand, the low reactive infants who just stared sedately at the toys, would grow up to be calm on dates, but they would also be at slightly greater risk of becoming delinquent, because parental threats would not intimidate them. They would become Clint Eastwood types.
The 5th Century BC Greek physician, Hippocrates, identified four temperaments: Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic. Kagans two groups would best fit into the Melancholic and Sanguine categories. It appears that the blueprint for temperament is established at a very young age and determines behaviour for many years, perhaps for life.
Can you imagine a brave new world where your future can be predicted by a test at the age of four months? Are you destined to become a worker, a drone, or a queen bee?
At the age of one year, I already made up my mind that I would be a scholar. What if I had chosen differently? Would I be happier? But these questions are irrelevant because in reality I had no choice. Everything is predestined!