Parents who give up on difficult household tasks may be doing far greater harm than simply storing up more work for later, according to a new study.

Whether it's flinging away a hard-to-open tin of baked beans in despair, or failing to hoover all the way up the stairs, newly minted mothers and fathers should beware: their baby is taking note.

A new investigation by US researchers has found that adults who give up when confronted with difficult tasks tend to pass this trait onto their offspring, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Trials carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that babies as young as 15 months old were aping the behaviour of their parents, taking on their quitting habits.

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By contrast, babies who observed adults pushing through failure were much more likely to persist when faced with their own difficult tasks.

While evidence already exists to suggest that school-aged children who learn to overcome initial failures are more likely to be successful in later life, until now scientists have been unable to determine whether babies can learn "grit" directly from adults.

Published in the journal Science, the new findings present evidence that infants can absorb and act on abstract concepts about how to behave from others.

The researchers divided a cohort of babies into three groups and made them watch an adult trying either to open a container or remove a toy from a keyring.

The adult in front of the first group succeeded after struggling for half a minute.

The infants in the second group saw the adult complete the task without any effort within ten seconds, and the third group formed an experimental baseline by not observing any demonstration at all.

The babies were subsequently tasked with activating a toy music box by pressing a button that had been disabled.

Those who had witnessed the adults persevere and succeed kept attempting to switch on the music box for longer than those who had been in the second or third groups.

The scientists saw similar results in follow-up experiments where the demonstrating adults did not address the babies directly or make eye contact with them, although the effects were weaker.

Professor Lucas Butler, an expert on human development at the University of Maryland, said the research showed "as with adults and older children, persistence even in infancy is not simply a personality trait, but rather may be fundamentally rooted in the social context."

He added that the infants' behaviour "went beyond simply imitating an adult's persistence with respect to a particular object, such as trying hard to open a container because they saw an adult struggle to open it."

But he noted that in the new experiment "the infants made a much broader, more general inference about the intrinsic value of payoff of hard work."

He said the new findings prove it is never too early to learn the value of hard work, and that they promised to form a foundation for new exercises in nursery schools to foster a mindset of perseverance in toddlers.