Simply reminding children of their many roles in society — helper, friend, neighbor, son or daughter — can lead to better problem-solving and more flexible thinking, according to a new study at Duke University.
“This is some of the first research on reminding kids about their multifaceted selves,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Gaither, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “Such reminders boost their problem-solving skills and how flexibly they see their social worlds, all from a simple mindset switch.”
After considering their own various identities, children showed more flexible thinking about race and other social groupings, which could be valuable in an increasingly diverse society.
The study involved a series of experiments with 196 children, ages 6 and 7. All were native English speakers.
In one experiment, the first group of children was reminded they have various identities, such as son, daughter, reader or helper. A second group of children was reminded of their multiple physical attributes (such as a mouth, arms and legs).
In another experiment, one group of children was again reminded they have various identities. A second set of children received similar prompts but about other children’s many roles, not their own.
All of the children were then given a series of tasks to complete. Children who were reminded of their various identities demonstrated stronger problem-solving and creative thinking skills.
For example, when shown pictures of a bear gazing at a honey-filled beehive high up in a tree, these children had more creative ideas for how the bear might reach the honey, such as flipping over a bowl so that it becomes a stool. In other words, they saw a new use for the bowl.
Children who were reminded of their multiple roles also demonstrated more flexible thinking about social groupings. When asked to categorize different photos of faces, they suggested many ways to do so. For instance, they identified smiling faces versus unsmiling ones, and old versus young faces. The other children, meanwhile, primarily grouped people’s faces by race and gender.
The findings suggest simple ways to encourage flexible, inclusive thinking for the young, and this could be especially valuable for teachers, Gaither said.
“We have this tendency in our society to only think about ourselves in connection with one important group at a time,” Gaither said.
“When we remind kids that they have various identities, they think beyond our society’s default categories, and remember that there are many other groups in addition to race and gender. It opens their horizons to be a little more inclusive.”
The findings are published in the journal Developmental Science.
Source: Duke University