Praise Is Tricky Business
Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily:
In 1999, Melissa Kamins and Carol Dweck made a striking discovery about the best way to praise children. When you are helping a child learn to read, saying "you are a smart girl" as opposed to "you did a good job reading" results in very different behavior when she has trouble reading in the future. Children who have received praise about their abilities ("you're smart") rather than specific praise about a task ("you did a good job ___") are more likely to exhibit "helpless" behavior when they encounter problems. Even though they were praised in both cases, telling kids they are "smart" just didn't motivate them the way specific praise did.
It's hard to deny the child's logic in this case. "I am a smart girl," she may think. "But I can't read this sentence. Therefore it must be impossible." But if she believes that she was able to do a good job reading in the past, then maybe if she just tries a little harder, she will eventually be able to surmount the current problems.
The lesson seems to be that generic praise is less effective than specific praise. But how generic is too generic? A new study led by Andrei Cimpian makes a subtler distinction between the generic and specific praise to see if the effect persists. [read more]