Parents, you’ve worked hard to teach the most important life lessons to your little ones. You insist on “please” and “thank you,” you remind them to eat with a knife and fork, and you never, ever let them pick their nose in public. Kudos to you! But there’s one important lesson that you might be forgetting—and it’s nothing you can cover in a simple conversation. In fact, you’re better off teaching them by example, instead.
According to a new study published in the journal Science, babies receive more than genetics from their parents. They can also absorb certain traits, such as persistence and perseverance, by watching how adults behave. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say that infants who observed an adult struggling with and then succeeding at something were more likely to show perseverance themselves when presented with a new task, Scientific American reports.
“The kinds of inferential mechanisms that babies use to learn concepts or things about the world, they can also use and learn to change how they act in the world,” Laura Schulz, a cognitive scientist at MIT and senior author of the study, said. “We don’t realize how much babies are watching us and drawing inferences from our behavior.”
The team at MIT recruited 262 babies between the ages of 13 and 18 months and placed them in one of three scenarios. In the first scenario, the lead researcher pretended to struggle with two different toys before solving them, engaging with the baby while she did so. The second time, the researcher solved the toys but did not struggle with them. And for the third scene, she did not do anything.
After each scenario, the researcher left a small musical toy with the child. She showed the baby that it could play music but did not teach them how to turn it on. The infants who had watched the researcher struggle discovered and pressed the toy’s button a significantly greater amount of times than those in the last two groups. In other words, the babies did not mimic what they had watched; they learned the value of persistence, instead. (These are the eight brilliant ways babies are smarter than you think.)
“Here’s a piece of evidence that an adult can influence even a toddler, and in a fairly direct sort of way, by modeling this persistent behavior,” Paul Harris, a developmental psychologist at Harvard University who did not take part in the research, said.
Now, researchers are interested in exploring which interactions with babies are most influential, including talking, gesturing, or tone of voice. They also hope to determine if the results can be replicated in the real world, as well as whether the lesson of persistence might last into adulthood. After all, determination is one of the attributes of the most wildly successful people.
Schultz has “a lot of respect for parents, especially speaking as one, so I wouldn’t presume to give parental advice based on a laboratory study.” Regardless, she hopes “it maybe provides a little reassurance that you don’t have to make everything look like it comes easily.”
Unsure whether your lesson is hitting home? You can also steal the top 10 habits of parents who raise successful kids.
[Source: Scientific American]