Keep trying!: Parental language predicts infants' persistence

Cognition. 2019 Dec;193:104025. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104025. Epub 2019 Jul 17.


Infants' persistence in the face of challenges predicts their learning across domains. In older children, linguistic input is an important predictor of persistence: when children are praised for their efforts, as opposed to fixed traits, they try harder on future endeavors. Yet, little is known about the impact of linguistic input as individual differences in persistence are first emerging, during infancy. Based on a preliminary investigation of the CHILDES database, which revealed that language surrounding persistence is an early-emerging feature of children's language environment, we conducted an observational study to test how linguistic input in the form of praise and persistence-focused language more broadly impacts infants' persistence. In Study 1, 18-month-olds and their caregivers participated in two tasks: a free-play task (a gear stacker) and a joint-book reading task. We measured parental language and infants' persistent gear stacking. Findings revealed that infants whose parents spent more time praising their efforts and hard work (process praise), and used more persistence-focused language in general, were more persistent than infants whose parents used this language less often. Study 2 extended these findings by examining whether the effects of parental language on persistence carry over to contexts in which parents are uninvolved. The findings revealed that parental use of process praise predicted infants' persistence even in the absence of parental support. Critically, these findings could not be explained by caregivers' reporting on their own persistence. Together, these findings suggest that as early as 18 months, linguistic input is a key predictor of persistence.

Keywords: Cognitive development; Infancy; Language; Learning; Motivation; Parent-child interactions.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*