Being obsessed with superheroes might just really good for kids
My little boy is currently going through the superhero phase.
And when I say go through, I mean obsessed with superheroes to the extent he won't go into creche or even to Tesco without wearing a cape of some description.
Much to his sister's embarrassment (and my frustration, when he takes 40 minutes to find a particular mask or sword or shield in the morning when I am trying to get everyone out the door in time).
However, now some new research has shown that his superhero obsession could actually be all sorts of beneficial to him – at least when it comes to staying focused and performing tasks better.
Recently six US researchers designed an experiment to see what makes kids stay on task when presented with the very real-world temptation of an iPad.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota recently tested four and six-years-olds by giving them a boring computer task and asking them to do it for 10 minutes. However, they also offered the kids an out: If they got bored, they could play a game on the iPad, located nearby in the testing room.
But they added a twist.
The 180 kids were assigned to one of three conditions: a control group, which asked the children to think about their thoughts and feelings as they went through the task and ask themselves “Am I working hard?”
The second group was asked to think of themselves in the third-person, for example (if the kid’s name is Hannah), “Is Hannah 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.
Superheroes work harder
Interestingly, the kids pretending to be superheroes ‘worked’ more than those who thought of themselves in the third person, and both of those groups did better than the kids who just thought of themselves as ‘me’.
Donning a cape and mask, the kids from the kids in the study were better at what psychologists call ‘self-distancing’. One reason the kids engaged in imaginary play had better focus might be that pretending to be another person allowed the greatest separation from the temptation. A second potential explanation is that the kids in costume identified with the powerful character traits of the superhero and wanted to imitate them. Whatever the cause, the superheroes showed more grit.
What this means, according to the researchers, is that the more the child could distance him or herself from the temptation, the better the focus.
“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 called “The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children,” published in Child Development.