In his book ‘The Psychology of Superheroes’, Rosenberg explores the context, happiness and positive psychology of popular superheroes. As Peterson & Park point out in chapter one, superheroes do not seek pleasure with their superpowers (indeed, it is normally their arch-nemeses that are doing this), but create happiness through connecting with something larger than their self, and something that provides them with meaning.
Peterson and Park argue, convincingly, that superheroes are positive psychology in action. They find meaning, engage and connect with something larger than the ‘self’ and they are aware of their ‘signature strengths’. These area all tenets of the Positive Psychology movement.
Add this to recent research (White, Prager, Schaefer, Kross, Duckworth & Carlson, 2016) that has shown that children who are pretending to be a fictional character work harder at a boring task, and we may have an interesting classroom intervention!
In this research, White et al. assigned children to various conditions under which they were asked to complete a boring task (pressing a space bar on a computer when a picture of cheese appeared) either as themselves or as a well known character. They were told they could take a break whenever they wanted, and were asked every few minutes whether they were working hard (i.e. ‘are you working hard?’; ‘is Julia working hard?’; ‘is Batman working hard?’). The children who were pretending to be characters completed more work than either of the other groups, even when accounting for age and other factors.
Indeed, in a real world example, Chartered Psychologist Dr Veronica Roberts, states
“I was an avid reader when I was little and when I started a new primary school I used to ‘become’ Roald Dahl’s Matilda on the journey into school. For various reasons I had been accelerated a year academically and being Matilda helped me cope with the step up in learning demands. She gave me the confidence in myself and determination to face my challenges in school.”
So, how can we create classrooms that support our children in working hard?
- Ensure your children know their own strengths: use activities that help children to identify what they are good at and allow them to utilise these strengths in the classroom
- Develop a collectivist culture in your classroom: ensure children have an opportunity to work together for a common good, whether it be a whole-class behaviour management system (marbles in a jar; earning a reward etc.) or working on a group project
- Use Batman: why not provide a superhero cape so children are encouraged to do their work as Batman/Wonder Woman/Thor and see if attention improves!
- Mixed Ability Groupings: encourage children to work together in mixed ability groups so the children can each use their strength (or practice something they need to work on) with reduced pressure to carry all of the load themselves. Some children will need to act as a scribe, some as a leader, some as the reader etc.
If you are looking for a program that uses Superheroes as part of a behaviour management system, I love the Superflex curriculum (available at www.socialthinking.com.au).
And remember, if you want any support setting up positive, inclusive classrooms in your school, we are available to come to you and can arrange Professional Development support within your budget, just get in touch.
If you are in the UK and looking for support in your school, you can contact Dr Veronica Roberts through her website at http://drvroberts.wixsite.com/edpsych or via linked in at https://au.linkedin.com/in/dr-veronica-roberts-778b5360.