To praise or not to praise
Frequent parental praise associated with conscientiousness and openness to experience, more brain matter in area controlling empathy
We showed that the parental attitude towards praising their child was significantly and positively correlated with the gray matter volume of the left posterior insular cortex in children. Moreover, we found a significant positive correlation between parental attitude towards praising their child and the personality traits of conscientiousness and openness to experience in the children. Prior studies said that gray matter volume in the posterior insula was correlated with empathy, and the functional connectivity between this area and the amygdala was associated with emotional regulation. Furthermore, the posterior insula relates to auditory function, and therefore, was likely involved in the processing of parental praise. Considering the possibility of experience-dependent plasticity, frequent parental praise would lead to increased posterior insular gray matter volume in children.
Parental warmth/acceptance correlates to an optimistic disposition
The relationship between two cognitive personality constructs (explanatory style and dispositional optimism) and retrospective self-reports of maternal and paternal behavior were investigated. College students (62 men and 145 women) completed the Life Orientation Test, Attributional Style Questionnaire, and Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire in a single session. As predicted, dispositional optimism was positively correlated with reported maternal and paternal warmth/acceptance and negatively correlated with aggression/hostility, neglect/indifference, and undifferentiated rejection during middle childhood.
Praise increases children’s beliefs in internal control
While girls whose fathers were especially affectionate and nurturant were less prone to believe that they had caused their own failures, findings generally indicated that parent behaviors characterized as warm, praising, protective, and supportive were positively associated with children’s beliefs in internal control. Conversely, “negative” parental behaviors, such as dominance, rejection, and criticality were negatively associated with beliefs in internal control.
Parental approval related to positive self-attitudes
In a cross-sectional study of undergraduates and their parents we investigated parental correlates of three types of positive cognition related to mental and physical health outcomes: optimism, learned resourcefulness, and positive self-evaluation. The correlates were parental self-cognitions, parental approval and disapproval, and offspring’s perception of parental approval and disapproval. Intergenerational effects were observed for learned resourcefulness and positive self-evaluation, but not for optimism. More parental approval was related to more positive self-attitudes in the offspring. For mothers, but not fathers, these relations were mediated by offspring’s perceptions.
Praise reduces bullying behavior
A sample of 570 children was followed from second to fourth grade. Multilevel modeling showed that relational aggression generally increased from second to fourth grade. Moreover, when teachers displayed more praise, students’ relational aggression increased at a slower rate; when teachers displayed more reprimands, students’ relational aggression increased at a faster rate. Overall, the results stress the importance of supporting teachers to reduce reprimands and increase praise when interacting with children.
Praise, but not prompting, may lead kids to eat more veggies
Low-income mother-child dyads (N = 199, mean child age 6.0 years) participated in a videotaped laboratory eating protocol with green beans, a familiar vegetable. A coding scheme was developed and reliably applied to categorize mothers’ prompting types. The prompting types were: Coercive Control (Sub-Categories: Reward and Pressure-to-Eat), Autonomy Promotion (Sub-Categories: Modeling, Reasoning, Praise, and Question), and Total Prompts (sum of all prompts). RESULTS: Greater use of Coercive Control, Autonomy Promotion-Modeling, and Total Prompts were all inversely correlated with amount of green beans eaten. Greater use of Praise was directly correlated with amount of green beans eaten. CONCLUSIONS: Mothers use different prompting types to encourage their children to eat vegetables depending on their picky eating status, most of which may be correlated with reduced intake.
Praise plus rewards most effective at increasing healthy food consumption
Children chose between an unhealthy food option (a bowl of potato crisps) and a healthy food option (a bowl of grapes) on two occasions. The tangible reward was manipulated by means of a game that the child received upon choosing the healthy product, and the praise was manipulated by means of the teacher’s applause and smiles if the child selected the healthy option. The second trial occurred three days after the first trial using the same food item options. Neither tangible rewards nor praise influenced the children’s choices by themselves, but combining the two substantially increased the children’s likelihood of selecting the healthy food choice. Although initially externally motivated to select the healthy option, the children who received praise appeared to interpret their choice as internally motivated and therefore continued to select the healthy option even in the absence of reward.
Computer praise can lead to increases in learning in young children
The computers are social actors (CASA) paradigm asserts that human computer users interact socially with computers, and the paradigm has provided extensive evidence that this is the case for adults. This experiment examined whether or not children have similar reactions to computers by comparing children’s predictable responses to praise from a teacher to their responses to praise from a computer. Eight- to 10-year-old participants (N= 42) received either praise or neutral feedback from a computer. Independent variables were the feedback (praise or neutral), and participants’ age and gender. Dependent variables measured via a paper-and-pencil questionnaire were learning (recall and recognition memory), perceived ability, and intrinsic motivation. Results provide evidence that children do have social responses to computers and that such social responses can lead to increases in learning (recall and recognition) in young children.
Praise increases children’s learning goals
We examine these associations by analyzing two existing datasets (Study 1: N = 317 first to eighth graders; Study 2: N = 282 fifth and eighth graders). In both studies, overall perceived parent praise positively related to children‘s learning goals, whereas perceived parent criticism negatively related to incremental theories of intelligence. In Study 2, perceived parent process praise was the only significant (positive) predictor of children‘s learning goals, whereas perceived parent person criticism was the only significant (negative) predictor of incremental theories of intelligence.
Praise increases life skills among soccer players
In total, 317 players (median age = 12.83 years) completed a survey assessing parental behaviours (praise and understanding, directive behaviour, and pressure), perceived life skills development (teamwork, goal setting, time management, emotional skills, interpersonal communication, social skills, leadership, and problem solving and decision making), and enjoyment of soccer. Multiple regression analyses found that praise and understanding was the key contributor to the outcome variables, making the largest unique contribution to teamwork, goal setting, leadership, and total life skills.
Praise does not increase child compliance
Nineteen studies on four discrete parenting behaviors were included: praise, verbal reprimands, time-out, and ignore. RESULTS: Providing “time-out” for noncompliance robustly increased both observed and parent-reported child compliance (ds = 0.84-1.72). The same holds for briefly ignoring the child after non-compliance (ds = 0.36-1.77). Praise did not increase child compliance (ds = -0.27-1.19).
Reprimands and punishment work better than praise for child compliance
The current review examines the relationship between a variety of parenting discipline behaviors (i.e., praise, positive nonverbal response, reprimand, negative nonverbal response) and child compliance. Forty-one studies of children ranging in age from 1½ to 11 years were reviewed. Reprimand and negative nonverbal responses consistently resulted in greater compliance. Praise and positive nonverbal responses resulted in mixed child outcomes.
Praise reduces hyperactive, disruptive and withdrawn behavior
The sample involved 570 children and 30 teachers from second grade classrooms in 15 primary schools. The Good Behavior Game was implemented in half of the classrooms based on random assignment within schools. Teacher behavior management (praise for appropriate behavior and reprimands for inappropriate behavior) was observed during regular classroom lessons. Hyperactive, disruptive, and withdrawn child behavior were assessed using teacher and peer reports, global self-concept and emotional engagement were assessed using child self-reports. The results suggested positive effects of fewer reprimands and more praise on child outcomes (except emotional school engagement), although the results differed by informant.
Praise increases future ADHD symptoms
The twin that was praised more at a given age tended to be have more ADHD symptomatology than his or her co-twin at the next age. This is a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, but positive attention such as parental praise is, in addition to its role in healthy parenting behavior, also a classic feature of unhealthy parenting behavior that is warm and doting, but lacking discipline, known as permissive parenting. This is theorized to be the explanation for praise leading to increased ADHD symptoms. Parents of children diagnosed with ADHD (and other childhood psychopathology) are often more permissive than parents of children without ADHD (20), especially fathers (21).
Success may be more important than praise to how kids view their relationships
In experiment 1, participants read three scenarios where they succeeded and received one of two types of praise (person or process) or no praise. Participants then read two scenarios where they failed. In experiment 2, participants read that they had failed in three tasks and received one of two types of criticism (person or process) or no criticism. Participants then read two scenarios where they succeeded. They rated how much they liked the teacher and how much they felt that the teacher liked them. RESULTS: Children felt more positive about the student-teacher relationship following success than failure. Type of praise did not influence perceptions of the student-teacher relationship following success or failure. However, person criticism led children to view the student-teacher relationship more negatively following failure and maintain this negative view following the first success. CONCLUSIONS: Success appears to be important for developing positive student-teacher relationships.
Labeled vs unlabeled praise
Nongeneric praise associated with greater motivation
Previous research has demonstrated that generic praise (“good drawer”) is related to children giving up after failure because failure implies the lack of a critical trait (e.g., drawing ability). Conversely, nongeneric praise (“good job drawing”) is related to mastery motivation because it implies that success is related to effort. Yet children may receive a mixture of these praise types (i.e., inconsistent praise), the effects of which are unclear. We tested how inconsistent praise influenced two components of motivation: self-evaluation and persistence. Kindergarteners (N = 135) were randomly assigned to one of five conditions in which consistency of praise type was varied. After two failure scenarios, children reported self-evaluations and persistence. Results indicated that more nongeneric praise related linearly to greater motivation, yet self-evaluation and persistence were impacted differently by inconsistent praise types. Hearing even a small amount of generic praise reduced persistence, whereas hearing a small amount of nongeneric praise preserved self-evaluation.
Labeled praise may not be as effective as unlabeled praise at increasing child compliance
We tested the effects of one of the most common ingredients in parenting interventions for preventing disruptive child behavior, referred to as labeled praise (e.g., “well done picking up your toys”), which is typically recommended in preference to unlabeled praise (e.g., “well done”). In Experiment 1, teaching parents to use labeled praise did not increase immediate child compliance, whereas teaching them to use unlabeled praise did. In Experiment 2, teaching parents to use labeled praise for two weeks reduced disruptive child behavior, but this effect was of a similar magnitude to that for unlabeled praise. Parents preferred the use of unlabeled over labeled praise. These findings suggest that parental praise promotes child compliance, but the addition of labeling the specific positive behavior may not be of incremental value.
Specific praise may be more effective than positive praise at promoting on-task behavior and increasing academic confidence
The effects of praise on student on‐task behaviour, academic self‐concept and numeracy enjoyment were investigated. Four year four classes and their teachers participated. Two teachers were instructed to use specific praise and two to use positive praise. Classes were independently observed on four occasions, twice before and twice after the praise intervention. Student on‐task behaviour, numeracy enjoyment and academic self‐concept were measured and teachers’ use of praise was observed. Specific praise promoted more on‐task behaviour than positive praise and significantly increased academic self‐concept. Ratings of numeracy enjoyment were not significantly affected. Implications of this research for teaching practice are discussed.
Children found more responsive to labeled praise than unlabeled praise
This study investigated the relative effectiveness of two types of content of praise, labeled and unlabeled, with lower and middle class children. Following two brief observation periods designed to assess differences in the frequency with which lower and middle class mothers employed labeled and unlabeled praise, each mother played the marble-in-the-hole game with her child. Half of the mothers in each group were given labeled and half were given unlabeled praise statements to make contingent upon their child dropping marbles in a particuler hole. The results indicated that the children were more responsive to labeled than to unlabeled praise. The mothers from the two socioeconomic groups did not differ in the frequency with which they employed labeled and unlabeled praise in the initial observation periods.
A high five may boost self esteem more than any type of verbal praise
To investigate the effects of ambiguous praise on motivation, we randomly assigned 95 5-6-year-old children to a praise condition (verbal trait; verbal effort; verbal ambiguous; or gestural) and measured motivation using task persistence, self-evaluations, and eye fixations on errors. Ambiguous praise, similar to verbal effort praise, produced higher persistence and self-evaluations, and fewer fixations on error after failure compared to verbal trait praise. Interestingly, gestures produced the highest self-evaluations. Thus, praise without explicit attributions motivated as well or better than praise explicitly focused on effort, which may suggest that children interpret ambiguous praise in the most beneficial manner.
Inflated praise reduces self esteem; non-inflated praise does not
Western parents often give children overly positive, inflated praise. One perspective holds that inflated praise sets unattainable standards for children, eventually lowering children’s self-esteem (self-deflation hypothesis). Another perspective holds that children internalize inflated praise to form narcissistic self-views (self-inflation hypothesis). These perspectives were tested in an observational-longitudinal study (120 parent-child dyads from the Netherlands) in late childhood (ages 7-11), when narcissism and self-esteem first emerge. Supporting the self-deflation hypothesis, parents’ inflated praise predicted lower self-esteem in children. Partly supporting the self-inflation hypothesis, parents’ inflated praise predicted higher narcissism-but only in children with high self-esteem. Noninflated praise predicted neither self-esteem nor narcissism.
Inflated praise may decrease challenge seeking in children with low self-esteem
In current Western society, children are often lavished with inflated praise (e.g., “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!”). Inflated praise is often given in an attempt to raise children’s self-esteem. An experiment (Study 1) and naturalistic study (Study 2) found that adults are especially inclined to give inflated praise to children with low self-esteem. This inclination may backfire, however. Inflated praise might convey to children that they should continue to meet very high standards—a message that might discourage children with low self-esteem from taking on challenges. Another experiment (Study 3) found that inflated praise decreases challenge seeking in children with low self-esteem and has the opposite effect on children with high self-esteem. These findings show that inflated praise, although well intended, may cause children with low self-esteem to avoid crucial learning experiences.
Inflated praise reduces self-esteem or creates narcissism
Western parents often give children overly positive, inflated praise. One perspective holds that inflated praise sets unattainable standards for children, eventually lowering children’s self-esteem (self-deflation hypothesis). Another perspective holds that children internalize inflated praise to form narcissistic self-views (self-inflation hypothesis). These perspectives were tested in an observational-longitudinal study (120 parent-child dyads from the Netherlands) in late childhood (ages 7-11), when narcissism and self-esteem first emerge. Supporting the self-deflation hypothesis, parents’ inflated praise predicted lower self-esteem in children. Partly supporting the self-inflation hypothesis, parents’ inflated praise predicted higher narcissism-but only in children with high self-esteem. Noninflated praise predicted neither self-esteem nor narcissism. Thus, inflated praise may foster the self-views it seeks to prevent.
Praising traits vs effort
Parents’ praise of effort linked to future growth mindset
In laboratory studies, praising children’s effort encourages them to adopt incremental motivational frameworks—they believe ability is malleable, attribute success to hard work, enjoy challenges, and generate strategies for improvement. In contrast, praising children’s inherent abilities encourages them to adopt fixed-ability frameworks. Does the praise parents spontaneously give children at home show the same effects? Although parents’ early praise of inherent characteristics was not associated with children’s later fixed-ability frameworks, parents’ praise of children’s effort at 14–38 months did predict incremental frameworks at 7–8 years, suggesting that causal mechanisms identified in experimental work may be operating in home environments.
Praising effort leads to future academic achievement
In a previous study, parent-child praise was observed in natural interactions at home when children were 1, 2, and 3 years of age. Children who received a relatively high proportion of process praise (e.g., praise for effort and strategies) showed stronger incremental motivational frameworks, including a belief that intelligence can be developed and a greater desire for challenge, when they were in 2nd or 3rd grade. The current study examines these same children‘s (n = 53) academic achievement 1 to 2 years later, in 4th grade. Results provide the first evidence that process praise to toddlers predicts children‘s academic achievement (in math and reading comprehension) 7 years later, in elementary school, via their incremental motivational frameworks. Further analysis of these motivational frameworks shows that process praise had its effect on fourth grade achievement through children‘s trait beliefs (e.g., believing that intelligence is fixed vs. malleable), rather than through their learning goals (e.g., preference for easy vs. challenging tasks).
Praising effort may increase self esteem more than praising traits
This study examined the effects of person praise and process praise on college students’ motivation and how these effects change as students progress through their undergraduate years. Hundred and eleven college students worked on three puzzle tasks and received either person praise, process praise, or no praise. Following subsequent failure, students reported on their intrinsic motivation, perceived competence, performance attributions and contingent self-worth. Results indicated that process praise enhances intrinsic motivation and perceived competence more than person praise, and that these effects vary as students advance toward their degree. While person praise decreased motivation for sophomores and juniors, process praise increased motivation for seniors; freshmen reported no significant differences in their motivation.
Praising traits rather than effort may increase depressive symptoms
Conventional wisdom suggests that praising a child as a whole or praising his or her traits is beneficial. Two studies tested the hypothesis that both criticism and praise that conveyed person or trait judgments could send a message of contingent worth and undermine subsequent coping. In Study 1, 67 children (ages 5–6 years) role-played tasks involving a setback and received 1 of 3 forms of criticism after each task: person, outcome, or process criticism. In Study 2, 64 children role-played successful tasks and received either person, outcome, or process praise. In both studies, self-assessments, affect, and persistence were measured on a subsequent task involving a setback. Results indicated that children displayed significantly more “helpless” responses (including self-blame) on all dependent measures after person criticism or praise than after process criticism or praise. Thus person feedback, even when positive, can create vulnerability and a sense of contingent self-worth.
Praising effort leads toddlers to be more persistent, even when parents aren’t around
In Study 1, 18-month-olds and their caregivers participated in two tasks: a free-play task (a gear stacker) and a joint-book reading task. We measured parental language and infants’ persistent gear stacking. Findings revealed that infants whose parents spent more time praising their efforts and hard work (process praise), and used more persistence-focused language in general, were more persistent than infants whose parents used this language less often. Study 2 extended these findings by examining whether the effects of parental language on persistence carry over to contexts in which parents are uninvolved. The findings revealed that parental use of process praise predicted infants’ persistence even in the absence of parental support. Critically, these findings could not be explained by caregivers’ reporting on their own persistence. Together, these findings suggest that as early as 18 months, linguistic input is a key predictor of persistence.
Praising ability reduces performance, praising ability or effort increases self-handicapping
Fifth graders (N = 103) were randomly assigned to three praise conditions (ability, effort, or no praise). The results revealed that children praised for ability were more likely to attribute their subsequent failure to non-ability factors and indicate more claimed and behavioral self-handicapping than children who were praised for effort or not praised at all. As behavioral self-handicapping created actual obstacles to progress, children praised for ability made significantly less improvement in their performance than those in the other two groups. In addition, the findings showed that children praised for effort also adopted the claimed self-handicapping and defensive attributional strategies compared to those in the no-praise conditions.
The timing of praise
Praising before a task helps children succeed
In the first study, 3–5 year-old children were asked to find an image which was not included in a group of images that had been presented several minutes before. The instructor told half of the children “You are a clever boy/girl. You can succeed” (verbal encouragement condition), while she said nothing to the other half of the children (control condition). It was reported that 77% of the children responded correctly in the verbal encouragement condition while only 30% responded correctly in the control condition. In the second study, 8–9 year-old children were asked to do an alphabetical order task using the names of 7 well-known fruits printed on a paper. After the children viewed the words and were given the instructions, the teacher told half of the children “I am sure you’ll succeed” (verbal encouragement condition) while she said nothing to the other half of the children (control condition). Results showed that more children succeeded in the verbal encouragement condition (82%) than in the control condition (47%). The importance of verbal reinforcement for teachers is discussed.
Praising after failure may preserve self-esteem but reduce perseverance
Seventy-two children (mean age = 5.70 years) completed a test battery that included tasks designed to assess responses to teacher feedback (i.e., insincere praise, no feedback) in hypothetical failure situations. The results showed that children who failed experienced higher levels of positive emotion and self-rated performance and showed lower motivation to persevere when they received insincere praise following failure, relative to those observed when they failed and received no feedback. In addition, relative to children with less mature theory of mind, children with mature theory of mind responded more negatively to insincere praise following failure.
Praising another child’s good behavior inspires children to follow suit
The current research sought to fill this gap by examining whether honesty can be promoted in children by allowing them to observe a peer’s display of honest behavior. The dependent measure was whether 5-year-old children who had cheated by peeking in a guessing game would confess to it. Study 1 showed that simply observing a classmate confess to peeking did not promote honesty. However, children who observed a classmate confess to peeking and receive praise and a small prize from an experimenter did became more honest. Study 2 replicated the effect with a weaker manipulation that involved praise for the confessing peer but no prize, which suggests that verbal feedback alone was a sufficient benefit.