For a long time, my son dressed up like the Hulk. Not here and there when the mood struck, either. Between the ages of 4 and 5, Henry donned his Hulk costume as if he had to. It was a calling, if you will. He was the Hulk. It made me giddy to watch his imagination run wild. He slept in his costume, wore it to preschool, and even showed it off at the grocery store. If it ripped, I just ordered him another.
So naturally, when I ran across this great Jenny Anderson article on Quartz, I nearly dropped my cup of coffee. As it turns out, a team of researchers have recently found good reason to believe that kids who dress up in superhero costumes are harder workers, and more likely to concentrate on tasks longer than most other kids. Which, as my fellow parents know all-too-well, is not small potatoes in this tech age of rampant distraction.
Hulking out, it seems, is even cooler than I had originally thought.
According to the Quartz piece, researchers Rachel E. White (from Hamilton College), and Emily Prager and Catherine Schaefer (from the University of Minnesota) performed an experiment with a group of children between the ages of 4 and 6. They would ask the kids to do a computer task that few young people would find fun. And, at the same time, they told the kids that if they got bored or restless they could switch over to playing an iPad instead. In fact, they had one right over in the next room for them to use.
Well, that seems like quite the set-up.
Before they even began their computer task, each participating child was assigned to one of three control groups. Groups 1 and 2 were told to concentrate on their thoughts and feelings during their task, asking themselves if they were working hard in either the first or third person. But, Group 3 was told to imagine someone else who they thought of as being a hard worker, like say … Spiderman. Or Dora. Or, ahem, the Hulk. These kids were then given a costume of the character they had thought of, and allowed to wear it during their task.
The bottom line? Overall, the group of nearly 180 children spent a little over two thirds of their “work time” on the iPad. (Who can blame them, really?) But the interesting part is that those costumes made a difference. The kids in the group who had dressed up, imagining themselves as their favorite superhero or character, worked longer on their task than the other groups.
Jenny Anderson explains:
“Donning a cape and mask, the kids from the recent 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.”
OK, just one last costume revelation before we part. I’m currently typing this dressed as Iron Man.
And, I have to admit, it feels pretty damn awesome.