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The Batman effect: Science-based strategy to teach perseverance

When children are asked to complete schoolwork or other tasks, there are often tempting distractions like apps, videos and games. If children use their perseverance, they are able to keep working on their tasks in spite of the distractions. Perseverance is important for children’s future success. In this post I will explain how you can stimulate perseverance in young children by using the Batman effect.

 Strategy to stimulate perseverance

Self-distancing includes taking an outsider’s view on one’s own situation. This strategy could help children to persevere when there are distractions. If children use an outsider’s point of view, they can reflect on their situation from a more objective perspective, which may help them to ignore the distractions.

 Design of the study

This study explored if self-distancing helps 4- and 6-year-old children to persevere. Children were asked to be a good helper by completing a boring task on a laptop, but at the same time, they were told they could take a break if they wanted by playing games on a tablet. The children were divided into three groups:

  • First person group: One group was encouraged to ask themselves: “Am I working hard?”
  • Third person group: The second group was encouraged to think of themselves in the third person and ask: “Is [child’s name] working hard?”
  • Fictional character group: The third group was asked to pretend that they were a fictional character; either Batman, Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer or Rapunzel. The children were encouraged to ask: “Is Batman [or the other character’s name] working hard?” Children in this group were also given a prop to dress up as that character (e.g. Batman’s cape).

 The Batman effect

The results of the study showed that:

  • 6-year old children persevered longer on the task than 4-year olds.
  • Children who were asked to pretend that they were a character, for example Batman, worked longest on the task compared to the other groups.

So, when there are distractions, taking an outsider’s perspective by pretending to be a fictional character can improve children’s perseverance.

 Tips

Use role play to teach your child perseverance, for example when she or he needs to clean his/her room or has to finish homework. Tell your child to pretend to be his or her favorite character and do his or her work the same way as that character would do it. During the task, ask your child “How is it going [character]?” This could help children to resist distractions and stay more focused.

 More information

White, R. E., Prager, E. O., Schaefer, C., Kross, E., Duckworth, A. L., & Carlson, S. M. (2017). The “Batman Effect”: Improving perseverance in young children. Child development, 88(5), 1563-1571.

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