Infants as young as 15 months develop a better work ethic when they see adults grappling with problems until they solve them.
Try, babies! You’re never too young to learn that the struggle is real.
Infants as young as 15 months can learn that hard work pays off, according to a new MIT study, which found that babies who observed an adult struggling at something before succeeding turned around and tried harder to solve their own problems.
Previous research has shown that kids with a growth mindset, who think putting in the work will be worth it in the end, earn better grades. So the MIT team wanted to find out how children learn to decide when to try hard, and when it’s not worth the effort.
They had 15-month-olds watch a woman do two tasks: Take a toy frog from a container, and remove a key chain from a carabiner clip. Half of the babies saw the adult quickly succeed at each task three times within 30 seconds. The other tykes watched her struggle for 30 seconds to complete each task just once.
Then the tots were given a musical toy with a dummy button that looked like it turned the toy on, but the real on-switch was actually hidden on the bottom. The babies knew that the plaything played music, because the researchers demonstrated the toy playing music – but without showing the little ones how it was done. Then the babies were given two minutes to play with the toy and figure it out.
And the ones who’d observed the adult struggling at her tasks found and pushed the right button twice as many times overall as the babies who saw the adult succeed quickly.
Playing with the babies also made a big difference in their persistence; when the tester said the babies’ names, made eye contact with them and talked directly to them, the infants tried harder than when the tester did not directly engage with them.
The researchers need to continue testing to see how long the infants embrace this “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” work ethic. But this suggests it’s never too early to teach kids determination and resourcefulness.
“There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” wrote Laura Schulz, the senior author and a professor of cognitive science at MIT. “This does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”
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