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Nouns Trigger Helpful Behavior in Kids

Update Date: Apr 30, 2014 05:52 PM EDT

Using certain words may trigger helpful behavior in young children, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, the University of Washington, and Stanford University conducted two experiments with around 150 children aged three to six. The children were from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, and lived in middle- to upper-middle-class homes.

In the experiments, researchers started by talking children about helping. The only distinction in the two experiments was that one referred to helping as a verb. For example, researchers said, " Some children choose to help."  The other experiment used a noun to refer to helping, like "Some children choose to be helpers."

Afterwards, researchers provided four chances for the children to help the experimenter. Children were given opportunities to stop playing and help by cleaning up a mess, opening a container, putting away toys and picking up crayons.

The findings revealed that children who heard the noun wording were significantly more likely to help than those who heard the verb wording. Researchers noted that children didn't help any more in the verb group than those in the control groups, where experimenters never mentioned helping.

"These findings suggest that parents and teachers can encourage young children to be more helpful by using nouns like helper instead of verbs like helping when making a request of a child," researcher Christopher J. Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, said in a news release. "Using the noun helper may send a signal that helping implies something positive about one's identity, which may in turn motivate children to help more."

The findings are published in the journal Child Development.

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