Effects of Implicit Failure Priming on Cognitive and Motor Performance in Elementary School Children

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Previous research showed that failure primes in academic learning contexts can impair the performance of both older school children and college students. The present research tested the effect of failure priming on cognitive and motor performance in elementary school children. We hypothesized that children incidentally confronted with a cue previously learned to indicate failure would perform worse on a cognitive task (Study 1, N = 54 second-graders) and a motor task (Study 2, N = 60 third-graders) than children confronted with a cue indicating success or children in a control group. The results showed that the failure prime group performed worse than the success prime group on an intelligence test (Study 1) and a ball-throwing exercise (Study 2). Neither experimental group differed from the control group. Our studies confirmed previous findings, showing that failure primes can be learned early in life and quickly (e.g., 1 year of failure prime exposure, Study 1). Furthermore, even a one-trial learning process (Study 2) suffices to turn an inherently neutral cue into a failure prime. This failure prime, in turn, can impair different types of performance such as cognitive and motor performance.

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