Batman’s work ethic and self-control are arguably his greatest superpowers—even more so than his stacks and stacks of cash. But what does it take to develop those characteristics in a person? According to a new story, it could be as simple as dressing up as Batman.
Researchers Rachel E. White of Hamilton College and Emily Prager and Catherine Schaefer from the University of Minnesota recently conducted a small study involving a group of children between the ages of four and six designed to measure their ability to stay on task. A group of 180 children were split into three smaller groups and told to complete a “boring” task on a computer in a classroom for 10 minutes. The researchers also told the children that if they became bored by the computer task at any point, they could also choose to play with an iPad that was located in the room.
The study’s control group was instructed to complete the task while asking themselves whether they thought they were working hard. The second group were given the same instructions but instead asked to think about themselves in the third person, meaning that if I were participating, I’d ask myself “Is Charles working hard?”
The third and final of the study’s groups were told to perform the same task but were also given the choice of dressing up as their favorite superhero or cartoon character. These children were then asked to consider whether they, as the characters, were working hard—“Is Batman working hard?”
Across the board, all of the children spent more time on the iPad than on their assigned tasks, but the children cosplaying as heroes and cartoons performed markedly better than their peers. The abstract of the study, appropriately titled “The ‘Batman Effect’: Improving Perseverance in Young Children” reads as follows:
Six-year-olds persevered longer than 4-year-olds. Nonetheless, across both ages, children who impersonated an exemplar other—in this case a character, such as Batman—spent the most time working, followed by children who took a third-person perspective on the self, or ﬁnally, a ﬁrst-person perspective.
What this means is that their performances rose when they were given the chance to distance themselves from their actions, and the kids who were embodying personae with positive traits were particularly better suited to conduct their tasks. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that putting on a Party City Batman suit is immediately going to turn you into the best version of yourself, but it could mean that a little bit of fanciful daydreaming is exactly what you need to make it through the end of the day with your wits intact.