If at first you do not succeed, try, try again. Particularly if a baby is watching.
Kids around 15 months old can become more persistent in pursuing a target if they have just seen an adult battle at a task before achievement, a new study says.
The results suggest that there may be value in allowing kids see you sweat. “Showing children that hard work functions may encourage them to work hard too,” researchers conclude in a report published Thursday by the journal Science.
The infants in the study did not simply imitate what the grown-ups did. They faced another challenge, demonstrating they had absorbed a general lesson about the value of sticking to a job.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted three experiments which included a total of 262 children ages 13 months to 18 months, with a mean of 15 months.
The basic process was this: Two groups of kids first watched a researcher eliminate a rubber frog from a transparent plastic container, and unhook a vital string from a carabiner, a metal ring with a hinged side.
For one group, the researcher succeeded only after 30 minutes of appearing to struggle to determine how to do the job. For the other, success came easily, within only 10 seconds, and she revealed that the response three times in 30 minutes. In both instances she kept a narration (“Look there is something inside of there! I wish to get it out! … Can this work? No, how about this …”)
After viewing the adult solve the challenges, the infants were shown a felt-covered box could play music, and they were invited to turn the audio on. The box had a large red button to press, but it was inactive. The question was how long the kids would last in pushing the button.
Across the three experiments, kids consistently pushed the button more frequently if they had seen the researcher battle than when she had solved her jobs easily. In one experiment, as an instance, they pushed it an average of 23 days after seeing her battle but only 12 times when the researcher hadn’t displayed much work. That smaller number is all about what other infants did if they were just handed the block in the first place, without visiting an adult fiddle with anything.
The result was much more powerful if the researcher had actively participated the child while performing her own tasks by making eye contact, with the child’s name, and embracing the high-pitched, exaggerated-melody manner of speech that adults typically use to hold a kid’s attention.
Results show such young kids “can learn the value of work from only a few examples,” said study senior author Laura Schulz.
The study couldn’t determine how long the effect lasts, nor does it reveal that parents could find the same effect with their kids. But “it can not hurt to try before your kid,” said Julia Leonard, another writer.
Elizabeth Gunderson, an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia who didn’t engage in the job, known as the results compelling. It’s surprising that such young kids picked up on the overall idea of continuing effort toward a goal, she said in an email.