Science Says Even Babies Can Learn That Hard Work Pays Off

by Julie Scagell
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Study finds babies may learn persistence from watching adults

Turns out even babies can recognize hard work pays off. In a new study, researchers found babies can learn persistence when faced with certain tasks if they see adults struggling and then persevering with their own.

According to a new study published in the journal Science, research suggests that parents of babies around 15 months of age can set an example when completing a difficult task that their children will internalize and that it will impact how they set out to complete a task themselves.

The study, conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was comprised of three experiments involving 262 babies aged 13 to 18 months. Researchers had two groups of infants watching an adult solve a task like removing a rubber frog from a plastic container or unhooking a key chain from a carabiner.

In the first group, the researcher pretended to have a hard time completing the tasks, taking “about 30 seconds to remove the frog or unhook the keychain.” In the second group, the researcher was able to complete the task easily within ten seconds. In third experiment, babies were encouraged to turn a music box on.

According to the findings, “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.”

Good thing they didn’t give the adults a Barbie box packed in layers of plastic with 57 wire twist ties AND tape securing each individual item Barbie needs for a goddamn day at the beach to the back of the packaging — or the only thing these babies would have learned is how to whisper “fuuuuucccccckkkkk” under their breath through gritted teeth.

Researchers also found babies showed more determination if their researcher called the child by name, made eye contact, or talked in a high-pitched voice that grabbed the child’s attention. Though their findings do not show how long the effect will last, consistently showing persistence in front of your child can impact how they approach a task or problem.

It stands to reason that those of us who lack in the patience department (ahem) and get frustrated easily when completing a task or say, trying to help our elementary schooler with math homework, may be teaching our kids to give up easily as well.

The study is a good reminder that our kids are always watching and our actions as parents really do speak louder than words. The struggle pays off, y’all.