Motivating Children with Tin Men Eating Artichokes

Why did the tin man eat artichokes? That’s a good question…and the answer is coming up. An even better question is how to motivate our children to follow through with chores and other desired behaviors. Parents have struggled with this “age old problem” since the beginning of time and one answer involves tin men eating artichokes. In fact, I recently reviewed a series of four studies revealing how parents can use the tin man eating artichokes to motivate their children. Curious?  Yes, that’s the answer. Curiosity helps motivate. Polman and colleagues showed this in four experiments (Read study here). In the first study, 200 people were given a choice of eating one of two cookies. One was covered in chocolate and sprinkles. The other was a plain old fortune cookie that contained “personal information” about them.  That fortune cookie aroused their curiosity and 71% chose to discover the “personal information” rather than enjoy chocolate and sprinkles.

In the second study, participants were given a choice of watching a “high-brow film” versus a comedic, entertaining film. When given a simple choice, the high-brow film gained a many viewers. However, when researchers promised to reveal the secret to a magic trick only in the high-brow film, the number choosing the high-brow film increased significantly. Seems curiosity outweighs pure entertainment for many.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity would encourage people to use the stairs rather than the elevator. After measuring the average number of elevator versus stair users, the researchers added curiosity to the mix. They put a question at the bottom of the stairs noting the answer would be found in the stairwell. It was a simple question: “What animal preceded man into space?”  They put four true answers in the stairwell. Only those taking the stairs could discover this answer.  Yes, you guessed it. When curiosity was added to the mix significantly more people took the stairs!  (The answer was frog, guinea pig, rabbit, and fruit fly by the way.)

Finally, in a fourth study, the researchers wanted to see if curiosity could increase the sale of fruits and vegetables. They did this by writing a joke above the produce and giving the answer only at the wrapping area.  For instance, the question over the artichokes was, “Why did the tin man eat artichokes?” The answer could only be discovered by wrapping the produce for purchase. When a consumer did so, they learned the tin man ate artichokes because he “always wanted a heart” (hahaha). Once again, produce sales went up when simple jokes added curiosity to the purchasing process.

What does this have to do with your children? We might try using some curiosity to encourage them to do their chores or eat their vegetables or…anything at all. We did this when our daughter was in kindergarten. She had difficulty getting her morning routine done in time for school. So, we made puzzles out of pictures of her favorite cartoon dragon characters.  We didn’t tell her which dragon it was but for each task of her morning chore she received a puzzle piece. Much to her delight, she received the final puzzle piece when she completed the final task and could see the whole dragon. Just imagine how many different ways you might use curiosity as one tool to encourage your children to do their chores: the answer to a joke at the bottom of a bowl of fruit, the discovery of some secret when they finish a chore, the opportunity for a surprise when they make their bed…. The list is only limited by our imagination. So, get your creativity and start building curiosity.

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