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Does Your Baby Have 'Grit', And What Does This Mean? Scientists Want To Find Out

Kids can be persistent little beings - and if the countless studies, books and articles on childhood perseverance have taught us anything, it's that 'grit' demonstrated in childhood typically leads to a happy and successful adulthood.

But how is it measured in very young children - in particular, babies - and what does it mean for down the road?

It's a question researchers like University of Washington psychology professor Jessica Sommerville want the answers to. She claims that while there is plenty of research on grit in older children and teens, similar studies on infants are lacking.

Sommerville is an expert on cognition in infants and young children and has conducted several studies focusing on social and moral development. In 2017, she determined that children as young as 17 months old can perceive who around them is the dominant figure. Her current research revolves around how young children respond to parental praise.

Persistence is a good place to start when it comes to infants, many experts argue. Because babies are a little too young to truly demonstrate grit, gauging persistence may be a good first step in studying why infants persist, and to what end. Anyone who has been around babies knows that some put in a little more effort than others when it comes to how they communicate their needs, grab the attention of a caregiver, and move from point A to point B. In fact, psychologists have witnessed individual differences in persistence as early as 6 months old.

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But does this really mean anything, especially when it comes to the long-term?

According to Kelsey Lucca, a postdoctoral researcher in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab in the UW Department of Psychology, it's something that should be investigated further.

"Whether a baby persists depends on a number of different factors," Lucca says. "It's important to find out what's shaping those differences."

Lucca and Sommerville recently penned a call to action in the August 16 issue of Trends in Cognitive Science. They are hoping that fellow scientists begin to study further why infants persist, as it may shed new light on how they learn, and what their future will shape up to be. It could also potentially suggest what parenting and/or educational interventions could be put in place that could promote persistence from an early age.

"Studying infants’ persistence can show us what infants and children understand about themselves and how their abilities and experiences compare to other people, like parents and siblings,” Sommerville said.

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