01 March 2010

Value of Praising Your Students / Kids

We all love praises ... for a job well done, for academic achievements, for beauty, .. but what do they do to us? Well we all know that they inflate our ego's, but unknowingly, they may have more damaging effects than we think!

Research has shown that people tend to give up if they realize that their lack of performance is due to a lack of ability, whereas people tend to continue trying if they realize that it is due to a lack of effort. It should be clarified here that "ability" refers to something that is fixed, whether it is true or not. Some people believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed. Others may believe that playing a musical instrument is an innate ability rather than learned. These are often referred to as fixed or growth mindset. Students with fixed mind set are concerned about looking smart with little regard of learning. Students with a growth mind set are more concerned about learning than getting good grades.

Dweck (2007) found out that praising someone's intelligence encourages a fixed mind set more often than praising them for their effort. The underlying belief system is that we tend to think that intelligence is fixed. Research has also shown that those who were praised for their intelligence tend to shy away from challenging assignments, and this is far more often than those who were applauded for their effort.

Children who are praised for their intelligence also tend to pursue performance goal which means that their primary motivation is to continue to prove that they are intelligent by the rewards or recognition they can get. This can have negative consequences in that they are likely to sacrifice potential learning opportunities if these opportunities have an element of risk of making errors and do not ensure immediate good performance. Children who are praised for their effort prefer a learning goal that emphasizes the mastery of new and challenging material.

Children praised for intelligence were less likely to want to persist on problems than children praised for effort (Mueller and Dweck, 1998). It has also been shown that children praised for intelligence also enjoyed the tasks assigned to them less than children praised for effort. In another experiment, children praised for intelligence perform worse than children praised for effort after encountering failures and setbacks.

In yet another study, Nussbaum and Dweck (2008) show that people who have a fixed mind set of intelligence (also called entity condition) tend to repair their self esteem "defensively" by comparing themselves with competitors of equal or lower abilities after they encounter failures, whereas people who have a growth mind set of intelligence (also called incremental condition) tend to repair their self esteem by trying to engage in remedial learning and comparing themselves with competitors of higher abilities.


Dweck, Carol. (November 28, 2007). The Secret to Raising Smart Kids. Scientific American Mind.

Mueller, C. and Dweck, C. (1998). Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75(1), pp 33 - 52.

Nussbaum, D. and Dweck, C. (May 2008). Defensiveness Versus Remediation: Self-Theories and Modes of Self-Esteem Maintenance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 34(5), pp 599 - 612.

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