Most people's advice for success in life? Try again after failure. It almost always pays off to try again, work on a new strategy, or think through things differently. But how do people acquire the motivation to keep trying after they've hit a snag? One answer might be through social modeling: watching others around us who have succeeded after retrying.
Science journalist Ed Yong describes a study in which 1-year-old babies played with an adult under two conditions. One of the adult models performed two simple tasks easily, and the other succeeded at the same tasks only after failing multiple times. A team researchers led by MIT graduate student Julia Leonard conducted the study with 103 infants who visited a children's museum:
As the babies watched, Leonard tried to retrieve a toy from a container, and detach some keys from a carabiner, narrating her efforts along the way. In front of some babies, she succeeded at each task immediately, performing each three times in the span of 30 seconds. In front of others, she spent the same period struggling, and only retrieved the toy and keys just before the time ran out.
What happened next?
“Now it’s your turn to play with a toy,” she said to the infants. She then handed them a music box that she had already activated. The box came with a large, conspicuous, and completely useless button. Pressing it did nothing, but it was the act of pressing that mattered. Leonard found that babies who had seen her struggling with her own objects prodded the button more often than those who had seen her succeed effortlessly.
First some questions about the study:
a) Is this study experimental or correlational? (and why?) What are the independent and dependent variables?
b) If you had to guess, would you say this study was between subjects or within subjects?
c) How long do you think it might have taken for the researcher who conducted this study to get over 100 babies to participate?
Now that you've considered question c above, you'll have a greater appreciation for what happened next: The graduate student, Julia Leonard, was asked by her advisor to conduct the whole study all over again! As you read this next quoted passage, look for themes introduced in Chapter 14:
Her results came in just as psychologists were starting to grapple with their reproducibility crisis—a deep concern that many of the results in published papers might be unreliable due to poorly-designed studies and sloppy practices. To weed out such results, many psychologists have said that their field should put more emphasis on replication—repeating studies to check if their findings hold up. Others believe that more experiments should be preregistered—that is, scientists should specify their research plans ahead of time. [...]
So after Leonard had spent a year studying the value of persistence, her advisor Laura Schulz told her to do the experiment again. “It was a very meta moment,” she says. She recruited another 120 infants, and she preregistered her plans. And to her delight, she got exactly the same results.
Review the information in Chapter 14 and consider these questions:
d) Why might it have been important for Leonard to conduct a replication of her original study? Give three reasons why replication is important.
e) Did Leonard conduct a direct replication, a conceptual replication, or a replication-plus-extension study?
f) Would it have been better for the replication to have been conducted by a different scientist? Why or why not?
g) Not all replication studies are preregistered, but this one was. What are two of the main benefits of preregistering a study--either a replication study or an original study?
Note: Unfortunately, the original study's publication is behind a paywall. But if your college subscribes to the journal Science, you can read the paper and even see a movie of four of the infants in the experiment.