Videos

Generalizations Can Harm Kids

August 2017

Children

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Dogs are friendly. Boys like sports. Girls are pretty. These statements may negatively impact a child’s motivation.

Generic statements, like “birds fly” or “fish swim,” make up about four percent of what young children hear every day. They also help kids learn about their world. But new research shows that certain generalizations can affect a child’s performance.

The research found that 4-year-olds who were exposed to a positive generic statement about their own gender performed worse than kids who were not. Researchers say that the children who heard a generic statement felt they had no control over their ability.

For example, girls were instructed to draw as many circles as they could inside other shapes. The girls who were told “girls are really good at this game” performed worse than those who didn’t hear the statement. However, when the statement was paired with an explanation, such as “girls are good at this game because they try really hard when they draw,” they performed better.

The research also found that generic statements made children choose easier tasks, opting for puzzles with fewer pieces, for example. So be sure to include an explanation when using generic statements with children.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.