Describing behaviors as reflecting categories (e.g., asking children to “be helpers”) has been found to increase pro-social behavior. The present studies (N = 139, ages 4-5) tested whether such effects backfire if children have difficulty performing category-relevant actions. In Study 1, children were asked to “be helpers” or “to help,” and then pretended to complete a series of successful (e.g., pouring milk) and unsuccessful (e.g., spilling milk while trying to pour it) scenarios. After the unsuccessful trials, children asked to “be helpers” had more negative attitudes. In Study 2, asking children to “be helpers” impeded children’s actual helping behavior after they experienced difficulties while trying to help. Implications for how labels shape beliefs and behavior will be discussed.
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