from the I-am-Bytram! dept.
A few years ago, assistant psychology professor [at Hamilton College in New York State, Rachel] White took a group of six-year-olds and set them a test of concentration on a computer, in which a series of images flashed and they had to press the space bar whenever they saw a picture of cheese. The task was designed to be rather boring, but the children were told that it was “a very important activity” and that they would be a “good helper” if they worked on the task for as long as possible – increasing their motivation to persevere. As a potential distraction, the researchers also left them with an iPad, with a much more fun game designed to lure them away.
Beforehand, the children were told that it could sometimes be helpful to think about their feelings, if the task got too boring. Some were told to think “Am I working hard?” while others were encouraged to think in the third-person (“Is Hannah working hard?”). A third group were given the option to change persona entirely by inhabiting the role of their favourite fictional hero, such as Batman or Dora the Explorer. They were even given props to dress up, and when they got bored, they were told to consider their behaviour as if they were the actual character, asking, for instance, “Is Batman working hard?”
The researchers had suspected that the alter ego would be a more extreme form of self-distancing, and the results showed exactly that. While the children thinking in the third person spent about 10% more of the total available time on the task that those thinking in the first person, it was the children inhabiting their alter egos who stuck it out for the longest of all. Overall, they spent 13% more of the total available time on the task than those thinking in the third person (and 23% more than those thinking about their behaviour in the first person).
White has also found that adopting an alter ego can also help children to concentrate on a complex card game, in which they had to follow complex rules that kept on changing. Once again, “the Batman effect” seemed to have increased their resolve and concentration, improving their “executive function”.
[...] If you want to try it yourself, White suggests picking a different person for different types of goals – maybe a wise member of your family for a personal dilemma, or a work mentor for a professional problem. “When I was a postdoc, we had a little saying in our lab that if you're an undergrad, pretend to be a grad student. If you are a grad student, pretend to be a postdoc, and if you're a postdoc, pretend to be the leader of the lab – just to get you to that next level,” she says.
APA PsycNet, (DOI: 10.1037/emo0000491)
Redirecting, (DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.11.008)
Sanda Dolcos, Dolores Albarracin. The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You, European Journal of Social Psychology (DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2048)
Distanced Self-Talk Enhances Goal Pursuit to Eat Healthier:, Clinical Psychological Science (DOI: 10.1177/2167702619896366)
Rachel E. White, Emily O. Prager, Catherine Schaefer, et al. The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children, Child Development (DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12695)