Babies can learn the benefits of perseverance by witnessing their parents struggling then completing difficult tasks, a new study has revealed.
Ever flung that packet you can’t open across the room or given up on getting that cobweb you Just. Can’t. Reach? We feel you! But turns out quitting those difficult household tasks in frustration could be having a major influence on little ones.
A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that babies as young as 15 months old were copying the behaviour of adults who give up on a tricky task.
By contrast, infants who watched an adult struggle and then succeed at something were more likely to show perseverance themselves when faced with their own difficult task.
Previous research has revealed that children of school age who learn to overcome initial failures are more likely to be successful in later life, but until now science has been unable to establish whether babies can learn “grit” and perseverance directly from adults.
For the study, scientists divided babies aged 13 to 18 months into three groups and made them watch an adult trying either to open a container or remove a toy from a keyring.
The adult in front of the first group succeeded after struggling for half a minute.
The babies in the second group saw the adult complete the task without any difficulty within ten seconds, and the third group formed an experimental baseline by not observing any demonstration at all.
The infants were then given the task of activating a toy music box by pressing a button that had been disabled.
Those babies who had watched the adults persevere and succeed kept attempting to switch on the music box for longer than those who had been in the second or third groups.
Senior author Laura Schulz says the results indicate that infants “can learn the value of effort from just a couple of examples.”
Though study could not establish how long the effect lasts, or indicate definitively that parents would get the same result with their children. But “it can’t hurt to try in front of your child,” advised Julia Leonard, another of the study’s authors.
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