Adults Behave Better When Exposed To Children's Toys, Says Research

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Can the presence of teddy bears enhance the prosocial behavior of adults? Apparently so, and a researcher from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has proven it in the lab and in the real world. Following are simple, evidence-based actions we can take as teachers, trainers, managers and meeting facilitators to support ethical and pro-social behavior in our classrooms, training rooms and meeting rooms, all while having fun!  

A Harvard Business Review study explores the impact of child cues on adult behavior.

A study in the Harvard Business Review reports the positive impact of child related cues on the moral or prosocial behavior of adults in workplace settings. Adults in the study were told they were participants in marketing research to evaluate products. One group was exposed to stuffed animals, crayons, and cartoons while the other group was exposed to fancy paper clips.

Adults behave better when surrounded by child related cues.

It turns out that adults exposed to child related cues were less likely to cheat on a math puzzle afterwards, less likely to lie, and exhibited more prosocial behavior with others than the those in the paper clip group. The researcher, Professor Sreedhari Desai from the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, suggests that the presence of child related cues has this effect because, cross culturally, these cues are associated with innocence and moral purity.  

These findings hold up outside of the lab, out in the real world.

When asked if these findings translated to the real world outside of the testing lab, the professor said there is evidence that when there are daycares, schools or other child related organizations within a 2 mile radius of a business, corporate charitable giving is greater than when the 2 mile radius is not populated by these organizations. Thus, child related cues in or near the workplace can improve both individual and corporate prosocial behavior.

The study’s researcher offers tips for making use of her study findings.

Professor Desai suggests that companies may want to take advantage of these findings to promote more moral and prosocial behavior by playing nursery jingles in the elevator, having child drawings in the boardroom, or using comic sans font for emails. You can watch a short and engaging video interview with Professor Desai's practical tips for eliciting better workplace behavior below.

The Parenting Inside Out curriculum has incarcerated parents care for teddy bears 24/7 for 7 weeks.

Of course, additional studies will have to be conducted to determine whether childhood cues in other adult settings would have the same positive impact, but while we are waiting for researchers to answer that question, I am reminded of the positive findings of the Parent Child Study. This randomized controlled trial looked at the impact of Parenting Inside Out (PIO) a curriculum  for incarcerated parents, on which I was first author. A part of this curriculum's program of study is teddy bear adoption by incarcerated parents. Every parent adopts and must provide 24/7 care of a stuffed baby bear for 7 weeks inside the prison. When the bear is not with the incarcerated parent, it must be in appropriate alternative care. In prisons with the PIO program it is common to see PIO parents wearing a front pack with their baby bear at meals, in class, and out on the yard. And yes, men carry baby bears as readily as the women, even in maximum security facilities!

Daily read-alouds and child-directed play practice are also a part of Parenting Inside Out.

In addition to baby bears, this curriculum is filled with daily read alouds from children's books, exposure to toys that would be of interest to children at various stages of development , and role-play practice supporting children's play. Since the PIO study came out several years before this Harvard Business Review study, now I'm wondering if a part of the success of the PIO curriculum is the exposure to 12 weeks of childhood cues, right in the middle of prison life!

Parenting Inside Out study findings show a reduction in recidivism, depression and self-reported substance abuse.

The positive findings of the randomized controlled trial The Parent Child Study, include a reduction in re-arrest, depression, and self-reported substance abuse. Study findings also noted an increase in parent-child contact. The PIO study results can be found here. Those interested in more information or purchase can contact folks at Pathfinders of Oregon at their website Parenting Inside Out.

Here is how I use child-related cues in the adult training room and classroom.

As I ponder the impact of child related cues on enhanced moral and prosocial behavior in adults in workplace settings, I am going to continue my practice of bringing table toys and fun props to trainings. I put toys and inspiring, topic related quotes out in the morning and frequently change things up at the lunch break so there is something different for participants to look at and play with. I also include fun ways to share opinions including writable boards with chalk or erasable markers, and stickers for producing different facial expressions.

Download my child-related cues resource guide.

For a download of my child-related cues resource guide with photos of products and explanations of how I use them and where you can purchase them, click here.

How do you use child cues in your adult classroom?

Please share your ideas in the comments below.