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Unleashing the Power of Pretend Play: The Batman Effect and Beyond

In a world full of distractions and temptations, fostering perseverance and self-control in children can often feel like an uphill battle. However, Dr. Stephanie Carlson’s recent research sheds light on an unexpected ally in the quest to develop these crucial executive function skills: pretend play.

On a new episode of the Catalyst 360 podcast, Dr. Stephanie Carlson, a distinguished professor at McKnight University and co-founder of Reflection Sciences, breaks down her groundbreaking research on how children’s pretend play can significantly enhance their ability to persevere in challenging tasks.

What is Catalyst 360?

Catalyst 360 provides personalized coaching services that foster meaningful behavior change, enhancing both personal and professional outcomes through a relationship-based approach.

The Podcast

The Catalyst podcast kicks off with a playful nod to Batman, highlighting the surprising correlation between children impersonating superheroes and increased perseverance. Dr. Carlson, alongside her colleagues, embarked on a journey to explore this phenomenon and its implications for child development.

As a developmental psychologist specializing in executive function skills, Dr. Carlson’s research centers on understanding and improving children’s self-control and impulse regulation. She recognized that young children spend a substantial portion of their time engaged in pretend play, making it a prime opportunity to leverage their innate tendencies to enhance executive function.

Drawing inspiration from psychological concepts such as psychological distance–the perceived emotional or cognitive space between oneself and a particular object, event, or person–Dr. Carlson and her team designed experiments to investigate how adopting the persona of a superhero or fictional character could impact children’s behavior. The results were nothing short of remarkable.

So What?

Dr. Carlson’s research underscores the importance of embracing creativity and imagination in education and personal development. By recognizing the transformative potential of pretend play, we can unlock new pathways to resilience, perseverance, and success in individuals of all ages.


As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, perhaps the wisdom of the simple “tongue-in-cheek” Batman quote mentioned at the beginning of the podcast rings truer than ever: always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. In that case, always be Batman—and watch as your inner superhero emerges to conquer any challenge that lies ahead.