A Vivid Example Of The Importance Of Praise
I’ve written often on The Brilliant Blog about Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychologist whose research has shown that praising children for inherent qualities (“You’re so smart!”) can lead them to avoid challenge and give up easily for fear of disproving that judgment.
Praising children for their efforts, however (“You worked really hard on that math problem—good job”) encourages them to challenge themselves and to keep trying when they encounter difficulty.
A new study from the Netherlands provides a particularly vivid demonstration of how this dynamic works. Rick Nauert on PsychCentral.com describes the experiment, led by Eddie Brummelman of Utrecht University:
“The researchers recruited 313 children (54 percent girls) ranging in age from 8 to 13 from five public elementary schools in the Netherlands. Several days before the experiment, the students completed a standard test that measures self-esteem.
For the experiment, the children were told they would play an online reaction time game against a student from another school and that a webmaster would be monitoring their performance via the Internet. In reality, the computer controlled the outcome of the game, and the children were divided into winners and losers, including groups that received praise for themselves, praise for their efforts, or no praise.
In the group where the children were praised for their personal qualities, the webmaster wrote, ‘Wow, you’re great!’ after the students completed one round of the game, whereas the children whose actions were praised were told, ‘Wow, you did a great job!’
The group that received no praise served as a control. After a second round, the children were told they either won or lost the game, and they completed a survey about their feelings of shame. Children who lost the game experienced a sharp increase in shame if they had been praised for their personal qualities, especially if they had low self-esteem, compared to the other groups.
The researchers theorized that children who are praised for their efforts may not associate their self-worth with success, so failure is viewed as a temporary setback or a lack of effort rather than a flaw in their character.” (Read more here.)
Interesting that the emotions associated with praise, and with success and failure generally, can be so intense—but I think it’s not too much to say that we feel “shame” when we don’t live up to someone else’s expectations of us. More reason to take care with the way we praise children, and with the messages we convey with that praise.