School Climate & Safety Report Roundup

Can Batman Teach Grit?

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 10, 2017 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Pretending to be a character known for perseverance helps young children stay focused, according to a study published last month in Child Development.

Researchers from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., asked 180 children ages 4 to 6 to do a repetitive task for 10 minutes, but said they could opt for breaks to play a video game.

All of the children were told that performing the task would make them “good helpers” and that they should occasionally ask themselves aloud if they were working hard. Some of the children referred to themselves in the first person, while the researchers randomly assigned others to refer to themselves by name in the third person—a method shown to help children gain some “emotional distance” to a temptation and see it more objectively. A third group of children were asked to imagine themselves as an “exemplar ... someone else who is really good at working hard,” such as Batman, Rapunzel, Dora the Explorer, or Bob the Builder.

Developing 'Grit'

Four- and 6-year-olds who pretended to be a strongwilled fictional “exemplar” character like Batman stayed focused on a boring task better than children who thought of themselves either in the first person or in the third person, according to a new study.


Source: Child Development

The video game was a strong distractor: Children on average spent more than 60 percent of their time on “breaks.”

And, in keeping with prior experiments on children’s self control, older children could hold out and stay focused longer than younger ones, with 6-year-olds spending about 46 percent of their time on the task, versus less than 30 percent of time on task for 4-year-olds.

But at every age, pretending to be a strong-willed character helped the children be more persistent.

The findings give more evidence to the argument from educators that more time for children to engage in free play and role-playing can improve their cognitive development.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2017 edition of Education Week as Can Batman Teach Grit?


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Opinion School Police Officers Should Do More Than Just Surveil and Control. Here’s How
SROs should be integrated into schools as a means to support students and create a safe, humanizing environment.
H. Richard Milner IV
5 min read
opinion sro school police 80377388 01
Dynamic Graphics/Getty
School Climate & Safety 4 Tips to Keep Students' Misbehavior From Sapping Up Class Time
Students' misbehavior has become one of educators' top concerns. Schools need a more deliberate approach to handle it, an expert says.
6 min read
Image of young students in a classroom
Parker Davis and Alina Lopez, right, talk about words and acts that cause happiness during morning circle in teacher Susannah Young's 2nd grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, May 4, 2017. Social-emotional learning has been found in research to have a positive effect on students' behavior, but it's not a quick fix for misbehavior.
Ramin Rahimian for Education Week-File
School Climate & Safety Is Virtual Learning a New Form of Exclusionary Discipline?
Some districts are assigning students to virtual learning as a punishment for misbehavior.
5 min read
High school student working on computer at home.
School Climate & Safety Opinion How to Reduce Gun Violence? Teachers Share Their Ideas
Schools alone can't banish gun violence, but they can invest in ways to strengthen the community and resist discrimination, which can help.
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."