#9 – Praise…general traits or specific behaviors?

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Please click here to listen to the WFIT Minute: Track 9 – Parent Praise

Based on Research by Carolyn Dweck, Ph.D. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

Your child races home from school with a beaming smile and runs into the kitchen to show you their report card. Of course you want to encourage your child to continue to do well in school. But, is it better to say, “You must be so smart!” (praising their intelligence ) or praising their effort, saying “You must have worked very hard!”?

Dr. Carol Dweck and colleagues studied the effect of praise on children solving problems. Half the children were praised for their intelligence while the other half for their effort. Then both groups were given a choice of problems to solve, either those that would be more difficult but told they would learn so much from doing them or those that would be easy.  “Easy” ensured that they would again be successful. Of those praised for effort:  92% chose the difficult problems (challenging themselves).  Of those praised for intelligence: 67% chose easy problems, evidently wanting to look smart.  Children have control over their effort, but not over their intelligence.

Dweck found this effect of praise for girls as well as boys, for the brightest and the less bright, in all socioeconomic classes.

So encourage your children and others by focusing on praising their specific actions or efforts.

That’s your Florida Institute of Technology psychology science minute, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

General Reference:
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. (2009). Nurture Shock, new thinking about children. NY: 12 Twelve, Hatchette Book Group.
Specific reference:

Mueller, Claudia M.; Dweck, Carol S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 75(1), Jul 1998, 33-52.

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