We all know a kid that is absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs, and they want dinosaurs all over their room. They know the names of even the most obscure dinos, and this phenomenon is called “intense interests”.
One in three children develops some kind of intense interest throughout their life, and it may be dinosaurs, astronomy, or something entirely different. That “obsession” tends to make itself clear between the ages of 2 and 6, and it eventually fades away. However, in some cases, the interest doesn’t get extinguished during childhood, and it follows the child for a large part of their lives.
Well, a study that was carried out by the universities of Indiana and Wisconsin found that children who develop an intense interest do better later in life when compared to kids that don’t have it.
Joyce M. Alexander of the University of Indiana and her team found that this type of interest, and especially interests that demand a conceptual domain, “enhance perseverance, improve attention and enhance skills of complex thinking as the processing of information”.
She differentiated this “conceptual interest” from situational interests, though. For example, if a dinosaur lets out a loud roar, a child might be interested in that only at the moment. However, if dinosaurs themselves are the point of interest for a long period of time, and the kid is “obsessed” with them, that’s “intense interest”.
The study also proved that intense interest improves linguistic skills and it’s a good indicator of high understanding. Psychologists also explain that the way children study dinosaurs helps them come up with strategies to face new situations and problems throughout their lives.
However, intense interests in childhood do not seem to be a result of a parent’s interest, and Yale University and the University of Virginia also found that obsessions with dinosaurs or astronomy develop during the first year of life, without the parents having encouraged the children.
Unfortunately, though, the research found that once a kid starts studying, they lose the free time to devote themselves to their intense interest, and it slowly fades away and is replaced with the general knowledge learned at school. To add to that, kids are less likely to discuss their intense interest with their new friends if they are not interested in it.
So, for any parent wanting to keep the interest in their children alive, they recommend teaching children facts about their interests, as kids who actively learned new information performed better than those who went to “pretend adventures” with their dinosaurs.