The Garrulous Jay – JayLo & The Mealworm

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I was delighted that a client drew my attention to an article in The Times this week entitled, Who’s a clever boy? The bird willing to wait for the worm. The piece was based on research carried out by scientists at Cambridge University based on the “famous” Stanford marshmallow test.

For those of you not yet acquainted with this test it involved children being offered two options: the first was to have one marshmallow immediately, the second to wait 15 minutes and then receive two of the puffy confections.

The experiment found that those children that were able to postpone gratification were generally more intelligent that their instant-guzzling peers.

Our boffins-by-the-Cam carried out the same experiment, but with birds instead of children and with a choice between an instant beak-full of bread and cheese, or a mouthful of mealworm after a wait.

As many of you will know, the logo for George Shippam Financial Planning is a Eurasian Jay – Latin Garrulus glandarius – with an acorn in its beak, and this canny corvid also lends its name to my weekly missive.

Imagine my delight then, to discover that “top of the class was a bird called JayLo”: a Eurasian Jay apparently able to resist the temptation of bread and cheese for a “mind-boggling” five and a half minutes to poke her* pecker into a juicy mealworm. (You can watch her in action on YouTube).

JayLo and her peers were also presented with a number of other cognitive tasks which together allowed the researchers to conclude that, as with the marshmallow munchers of the 1970s, there is a clear link between delayed gratification and general intelligence in animals apart from humans.

In some ways the conclusion is unsurprising and speaks to the reason I chose the jay and acorn as my logo. It is widely known that jays are avid collectors and storers of acorns and other sources of food. In other words they are able to plan ahead in anticipation of seasonal changes.

But the marshmallow test – and its avian equivalent – also remind us of a more subtle lesson when it comes to making investment decisions.

Sometimes it can be tempting to go for the immediate gratification of rapid returns by investing in companies exhibiting extraordinary growth, at the same time eschewing the attractions of less dynamic businesses with a more modest growth profile. We can be tempted by the corporate bread & cheese and shun the financial mealworm.

Our feathered friend JayLo knows that this can sometimes be a mistake, and this isn’t just a question of taste. She may also understand that the mealworm is a more nutritious morsel and therefore a better option in terms of ensuring her long-term ability to survive and thrive.

Perhaps we should make our fund managers take a grown-up marshmallow test… Suggestions for the equivalent of the bread & cheese and mealworm welcome.

*JayLo was misgendered by The Times in their headline, not by me!