Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

True Grit

Babies learn tenacity through observation.
December 19, 2017
MIT

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

MIT researchers have found that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. In their study, babies who watched an adult struggle at two different tasks before succeeding tried harder at their own difficult task than babies who saw an adult succeed effortlessly.

In the experiment, the babies first watched an adult perform two tasks: removing a toy frog from a container and removing a key chain from a carabiner. Half saw the adult quickly succeed three times within 30 seconds; the other half saw her struggle for 30 seconds before succeeding.

The experimenter then showed the baby a musical toy with a nonfunctional button that looked as if it should turn the toy on. Out of the baby’s sight, the researcher turned the toy on, using a concealed, functional button, to demonstrate that it played music, and then turned it off and gave it to the baby.

Each baby was allowed two minutes to play with the toy. Those who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding pressed the button nearly twice as many times overall as those who saw the adult succeed easily. They also pressed it nearly twice as many times before asking for help or tossing the toy. This suggests that people appear to be able to learn, from an early age, how to make decisions regarding effort allocation.

“There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science and senior author of the study, which appeared in Science. “This does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?

There’s a robust molecular language being spoken between your muscles and your brain.

The 1,000 Chinese SpaceX engineers who never existed

LinkedIn users are being scammed of millions of dollars by fake connections posing as graduates of prestigious universities and employees at top tech companies.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.