Infants make more attempts to achieve a goal when they see adults persist

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Science  22 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1290-1294
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan2317

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If at first you don't succeed, try again

Does grit—the combination of perseverance and passion popularized in the media—differ from conscientiousness? Personality traits are embedded early in life and remain relatively stable, whereas grit (at least the passion component) may come and go and thus be malleable. Leonard et al. show that infants can learn from adults to persist through failure at arduous tasks (see the Perspective by Butler). 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.

Science, this issue p. 1290; see also p. 1236


Persistence, above and beyond IQ, is associated with long-term academic outcomes. To look at the effect of adult models on infants’ persistence, we conducted an experiment in which 15-month-olds were assigned to one of three conditions: an Effort condition in which they saw an adult try repeatedly, using various methods, to achieve each of two different goals; a No Effort condition in which the adult achieved the goals effortlessly; or a Baseline condition. Infants were then given a difficult, novel task. Across an initial study and two preregistered experiments (N = 262), infants in the Effort condition made more attempts to achieve the goal than did infants in the other conditions. Pedagogical cues modulated the effect. The results suggest that adult models causally affect infants’ persistence and that infants can generalize the value of persistence to novel tasks.

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