Is Batman the key to keep children on task? Maybe. Researchers from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., found children ages 4 to 6 were more focused on boring tasks when they pretended to be a character known for perseverance, like Batman.
In this study, The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children published in Child Development, children were asked to be “good helpers” by performing a repetitive task for 10 minutes that required their full attention, but they could take breaks to play a video game. They were also told to periodically ask themselves aloud if they were indeed working hard. Certain children referred to themselves in first person, while others were randomly assigned by researchers to refer to themselves in the third person or assigned to pretend to be an be an “exemplar… someone else who is really good at working hard” like Batman, Dora the Explorer, Rapunzel, or Bob the Builder. The text from the study is below:
To test work perseverance, we created a laboratory analog of a common modern self-control dilemma: The option to do work that is beneficial in the long run but tedious in the moment, or to indulge in a pleasurable distraction. Children were asked to be a “good helper” by completing a boring activity: an extended, and therefore particularly tedious, version of a computerized go/no-go task. At the same time, they were given the option to take a break if and when they wanted by playing games on a nearby iPad.
Researchers found the video game to be a significant distraction, for the Children spent more than 60 percent of their time taking “breaks” to play. Overall, older Children were found to have more self-control than the younger children, but the biggest factor in determining their focus was how they referred to themselves. At every age, children who pretended to be headstrong characters like Batman were the most persistent. The second most persistent group were the children who referred to themselves in third person, followed by those who referred to themselves in first person who were the least persistent.
Recent studies have also shown that transcending one’s self-immersed point of view can facilitate self-regulation in preschoolers.
These findings provide evidence suggesting children ought to engage in free play and role-playing to improve cognitive development.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.