whether a failure to elicit a property from a
novel toy is likely to be a failure of the toy it-
self or of the individual playing with it (13).
But in Leonard et al.’s experiments, the
infants made a much broader, more general
inference about the intrinsic value and payoff of hard work. They saw an adult who
tried hard and succeeded as a result, and
they then generalized this to a toy that they
had never seen before. This inference about
the value of effort and perseverance drove
their persistent exploration, even when they
themselves were unable to succeed.
These experiments provide a compelling
proof of concept—even 1-year-olds learn the
value of hard work simply from seeing an
adult model it. This observation suggests a
potentially powerful learning mechanism
for shaping how children approach challenging situations. This finding could pave
the way for a broad range of scientific investigations into how different types of social
cues and information influence children’s
orientation toward challenge and their implicit beliefs about effort and success.
Perhaps the key question arising from
these studies is how different experiences
watching adults approach challenge, effort,
and perseverance shape young children’s de-
veloping notions of hard work and success
in real life. Much of adults’ effort is opaque
to children. Parents go to work, struggle
with the tasks at their job, persist or give
up, maintain focus or fall prey to procrasti-
nation. But how much of this is evident to
their children? How do children gather the
evidence necessary to make the kind of in-
ferences seen in Leonard et al.’s study? Mul-
tiple modes of transmission may include a
more general sense that their parents work
hard and do not shirk their responsibilities,
as well as the explicit and implicit messages
that parents convey to their children about
the importance of challenge and effort.
It also remains to be shown how the messages that children receive about effort vary
across different settings and socioeconomic
or cultural contexts. For example, children
growing up in societies or cultures where
they are more exposed to or more involved
in adult work from an early age might develop very different orientations toward effort than children growing up in a Western
industrialized setting. Further, individual
differences in children’s sensitivity to evidence about the value of effort might affect
their beliefs and mindsets about hard work
over the course of development.
Answers to these questions may help to
develop successful ways to signal and communicate the importance of effort to children in the early years of school to foster a
growth mindset and support their achievement during childhood and into adolescence. Leonard et al.’s study presages an
exciting body of work over the coming years
investigating how adults foster and shape
children’s developing approach to hard
work and perseverance. j
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Children differ in how willing
they are to persist in tricky tasks.
Leonard et al. show that even
young infants take their cue from
observing how adults persist.