Thoughts from Counselors

The Batman Effect

By Michael Abbott

I recently had the opportunity to read a blog post reporting on researcher Stephanie Carlson’s recent findings between pretend play and executive functioning. In this blog post Carlson discusses how she and her colleagues came up with the idea to have children pretend to be Batman including wearing a cape while performing executive functioning tasks. Carlson was interested in what helped students persist with tasks and challenges, stemming from the idea of the famous Marshmallow experiment that had children controlling impulses and delaying instant gratification for a future reward.

The researchers thought, “Young children are already experts at pretend role-play. They spend as much as two-thirds of their waking hours doing it. We wondered—what if we asked kids to pretend while doing a “serious” activity? What if it were a difficult activity that challenges their executive functioning skills?”

What they found was that “Kids who pretended were more flexible thinkers than those who didn’t pretend. They spent more time trying to open the box. They tried more keys. They were calmer. A child who “made believe” he was Batman acted as if he were a year older in terms of executive functioning skills. As one of the 4-year-olds in the research wisely explained, “Batman never gets frustrated.”

Carlson contends, “pretending helps a child step back from a problem and think about it from multiple angles. It helps him see different options for finding a solution.”

“Pretending also uses the same brain networks as real behavior,” Carlson continued. “So if a child practices using pretend play, it’s more likely he’ll use those same brain networks in real situations.”

With summer classes beginning and students time in courses is accelerated due to the time constraints of summer classes, it might be worth it to consider becoming Batman in your studies and in tutoring. Being able to think outside of the box, or being able to “fake it till you make it” might provide lasting benefits while approaching classes. Batman is the world’s greatest detective. Batman would persist, he would preserve, and he would find success. So can you!

For further information regarding the study mentioned above, please visit:

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