Both kids and adults like to believe in superheroes because those mythic figures—whether they come in the form of Wonder Woman or Iron Man—provide hope when life is at it’s bleakest. For young children, superheroes can also help them concentrate through purposely boring 10-minute tasks.
Attempting to identify what keeps kids on task in a world increasingly filled with distractions through technology and media, six researchers designed an experiment to test a child’s level of grit and determination. They called the study “The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children,” as published in Child Development.
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Researchers tested four- and six-year-olds by giving them a 10-minute dull computer task, while also tempting children with a nearby iPad full of games they could play if they got bored.
The 180 kids were tested in three groups. The first was the control group. They were asked to consider their own thoughts and feelings on the activity as they were working—i.e. “Am I working hard?” The second group were instructed to think of themselves in the third person. So if a boy’s name was Kyle, he was told to think to himself, “Is Kyle working hard?”
In the third condition, the kids were asked to think about someone else who is really good at working hard. They could pick from some well-known superhero types: Batman, Bob the Builder, Rapunzel, and Dora the Explorer. The kids got to dress up as the character they picked and then were asked, “Is Batman working hard?”
For 10 minutes the kids could move between the “work” and iPad. They were reminded every minute, through a loud speaker, of their “condition” (“Is Dora working hard?”). All the kids were told, “This is a very important activity and it would be helpful if you worked hard on this for as long as you could.” Perseverance was measured as time spent on the ‘work’ task.
The iPad proved too tempting a distraction for the kids, as in total the kids spent 37% of the time working on their task and 6#% playing on the iPad.
However, when children pretended to be superheroes, they “worked” harder than the other two groups. In addition, those kids who thought of themselves in the third person—“Is Kyle working hard?”—also “worked better than the kids only thinking of themselves.
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“Children who were asked to reflect on the task as if they were another person were less likely to indulge in immediate gratification and more likely to work toward a relatively long-term goal,” the authors wrote in the study.
So just like Ben Wyatt in “Parks & Rec,” you should absolutely buy your children an authentic Batman suit for Christmas. You want them to do well in school, don’t you?