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