Kids will hate this study, but it turns out that doing chores might boost their brain power. New research from La Trobe University found cooking, gardening, and cleaning around the house, among other household chores, are associated with better academic performance and problem-solving skills.
While they might be annoying, chores can be very useful, and several previous studies have shown doing age-appropriate household chores can bring a wide array of benefits. They increase the feelings of autonomy and are associated with improved prosocial behaviors and greater life satisfaction. But this could go even further, with links between chores and child cognitive development.
Researchers wanted to further explore the links between household chores and executive functions -- an umbrella term for cognitive processes. These functions are defined as working memory (monitoring and manipulating temporary information), inhibition (suppressing irrelevant information to focus on a task), and shifting (moving focus between tasks).
These skills typically start to develop in early childhood and then continue to develop into late adolescence and early adulthood. While there’s some evidence that suggests engagement in household chores can impact executive functions in older adults, few studies have explored this relationship in children, which is when these skills are still being shaped. As the study found, chores can have quite a positive impact on kids' brains.
“Parents may be able to use age and ability-appropriate chores to facilitate the development of executive functions,” Deana Tepper, the study lead author, said in a statement. “Children who cook a family meal or weed the garden on a regular basis may be more likely to excel in other aspects of life – like schoolwork or problem solving.”
Chores and intelligence
The researchers at La Trobe University in Australia worked with parents and guardians of over 200 children aged between five and 13 years old. Back in mid-2020, the parents/guardians were asked to fill out questionnaires on the number of chores their children did on a daily basis and their child’s executive function, so to better understand the link between the two.
After processing the questionnaires, the researchers found that the engagement in self-care chores, such as making themselves a meal, as well as family-care chores, such as making someone else a meal, significantly improved working memory and inhibition – after controlling the influence of other factors such as age, gender and the presence or absence of a disability.
“We hypothesized that children who engaged in more household chores would have better inhibition and working memory. Our findings likely reflect that most chores require individuals to self-regulate, maintain attention, plan, and switch between tasks, thereby supporting the development of executive functioning,” said Tepper.
The study was published in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal.