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Departmental Colloquium: Social influences on children’s persistence

Julia Leonard
Wednesday, April 13, 2022, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm

Learning requires effort, yet children can’t try hard at everything. Every day children have to decide what’s worth their effort - when to persist through challenges versus when to give up and move on to a different endeavor. How do children make this decision? In this talk, I show how infants and children leverage social information to effectively allocate effort. First, I show that children are more likely to stick with a challenge when provided clear feedback that their performance is improving over time. Second, I demonstrate that infants can generalize the value of persistence to a novel task from watching how hard an adult tries to reach a goal. Children not only integrate information about adults’ actions, but also about their outcomes (success or failure) and testimony, to decide how hard to try. Third, I show correlational and causal evidence that the real-world parenting behavior of “taking over” (completing hard tasks for children) negatively impacts children’s persistence. Finally, I present data showing that day-to-day variation in parent praise correlates with fluctuations in children’s naturalistic persistent behavior. Collectively, this work elucidates the powerful effects of adults’ actions and words on children’s effort allocation and ultimately suggests adult behavior as an effective point of intervention for fostering children’s persistence.