Babies as young as a year old can be taught skills like grit and perseverance by observing adults struggling and then succeeding to complete a task.
That’s the finding of a research study conducted recently by a graduate student at MIT.
In a study Julia Leonard published in the journal Science, and documented on the education news website the74, she observed as 262 babies ranging in age from 13 to 18 months watched adults “persist through failure at arduous tasks.”
“Infants who had observed adults struggle for half a minute before activating a toy persisted when given their own complicated toy to play with, in contrast to the lesser grit displayed by infants who had seen only rapid and effortless adult successes,” Leonard found,
What are the implications of these admittedly preliminary findings?
“This study suggests that we’re not born necessarily with a certain amount of grit that can’t change,” Leonard told the74. “It’s not a stable character trait. It can be learned and influenced by social context.”
Parents who want to try this at home might follow this advice Leonard offered in her the74 interview:
“If parents do want to try modeling grit, the best way is to make sure the adult is engaging the child with eye contact and saying the child’s name while demonstrating overcoming a difficult task. Leonard’s study found that adults who used these cues when struggling with the toys in the study had a greater effect on the children’s perseverance than the adults who purposely didn’t engage with the children but solely modeled the effort-filled behavior.”
Leonard next wants to determine whether the effects she observed on her study might carry on into childhood. “Even in infancy, babies are paying attention to what adults are doing and using that information to guide their persistence,” she told the74. “I think that’s an interesting message for educators to think about how they’re modeling behavior.”