The WSJ had an interesting story over the weekend about the power of self-distancing (just a fancy way of saying “pretending”).
The reporter, Alison Gopnik, cited two research studies that looked at what happened to young children’s performance working on a task when they would pretend to be a superhero, like Batman or Dora the Explorer.
In the first study, five year-olds working on a set of problems showed an improvement in executive function (working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control) when they pretended they were a superhero. Three year-olds did not show any such improvement.
In the second study, a follow-up to the first one, 4 and 6 year olds were asked to complete a repetitive task for 10 min while having the option to take breaks by playing an extremely attractive video game. Across both ages, children who impersonated an exemplar other—in this case a character, such as Batman—spent the most time working.
The results suggest that pretending is a useful tool to for helping children with self-control and will power (persistence).
I can see lots of immediate uses for this knowledge in my own life:
- Next time I am doing my math homework, I think I’ll dress up as Superman.
- When it’s time to cut the grass, I think I’ll don a Batman outfit. (I should be able to pick up these outfits at a bargain now that Halloween has passed.)
- Next time I have to teach the difference between debits and credits, I’ll pretend I’m Luca Pacioli, the creator of double-entry bookkeeping in the 15th century. (I’ll wear my black graduation robe for this one, since Pacioli was also a Franciscan friar.)
- Next time I make a green smoothie I’ll wear a chef’s hat and pretend I’m Emeril Lagasse; I’m sure it will taste so much better.
- And next time I’m out on a date with my wife, I’ll pretend that I’m Bruce Springsteen. My wife LOVES Bruce… (I think the red bandana and jeans jacket look should do the trick).
The possibilities with pretending are endless…