Suzanne Figel ACF Abstract FY11

"Praise Influences Childrens Attention to Errors Developmental"

83rd Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association

Suzanne Figel

The type of praise children receive influences their motivation after failure. Generic praise (e.g., you are good at that) is related to learning goals while non-generic praise (e.g., you did a good job at that) is related to performance goals. A child who receives generic praise is less likely to persist on a task after failure, while a child who receives non-generic praise is more likely to persist after failure. While many studies have examined the influence of different praise types, little is understood on why failure is so prominent among children who receive generic praise.

While many studies have used verbal response as a measure of praise, the present study used eye tracking as a nonverbal measure to examine how the type of praise changes childrens reaction to failure. Specifically, eye tracking may help explain why children persist less after given generic praise by examining how praise influences childrens attention to errors.

Thirteen children ages 4  7 received generic or non-praise. Children were shown four pictures (said to be drawn by other children) that were used as a pre and post test measure of attention to errors (i.e., missing parts). Children were then told to imagine making four drawings of their own. Those four drawings received either generic or non-generic praise; the pictures were shown on the computer screen. Next, children were told two stories about drawings that contained errors. Eye movements were recorded for each drawing and questions pertaining to motivation and self-evaluation were asked.

Children who received generic praise (M=0.13, SD=.14) had significant lower persistence as compared to children who had received non-generic praise (M=1.0, SD=.00 ; t (11)= -17.04, p<.001). Eye fixations were measured by comparing the mean fixations of missing elements by praise conditions. During the error trial, children who received generic praise (M = 18.5, SD = 4.32) had more eye fixations on the missing parts than those given non-generic praise (M = 8.71, SD = 3.82; t (11) = 4.34, p < .01; Figure 1). Also, children who received generic praise (M = 8.17, SD = 1.47) had more eye fixations on the post-test pictures compared to the non-generic praised children (M = 3.71, SD = 2.36; t (11) = 4.0, p < .01; Figure 2). This shows that generic praise increases attention to errors on their own drawings as well as those drawn by other children significantly more than non-generic praise.


Figure 1 Means and Standard Deviations for Verbal and Non-Verbal Persistence Measures

Mean SD T value Significance
Post-error persistence Generic .13 .14 -17.04 .001 Non-Generic 1.0 .00 Number of post-error fixations Generic 18.5 4.32 4.0 .001 Non-Generic 8.71 3.82 Number of post-test fixations Generic 8.17 1.47 4.0 .001 Non-Generic 3.71 2.36