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Praising Kids For Being Smart Makes Them More Likely to Cheat!

S u m m a r y :
Kids who are praised for being smart are more likely to cheat or to give up in the face of challenges, says a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.

Words of Praise or Words of Doom?

“You are so smart; you did so well.”
These words of praise might be deemed encouraging, but they might also be doing more harm than good to kids, even those as young as 3. A new study conducted by an international team of investigators suggests that praising children for being intelligent is linked with a greater risk of them being dishonest. They are more likely to not only cheat but also to give up when obstacles pop up on their paths.

Praise Ability or Performance?

It is often said that one should praise a childs effort’s instead of his innate ability. This will build him up as he will be encouraged to focus on harkwork. On the other hand, when he is constantly praised for his gifts, he will take them for granted, and become less motivated to learn how to tackle obstacles, or so says the research of Mindset’s author Carol Dweck on whose work is the new study based.

According to co-author Gail Heyman, a development psychologist at UC San Diego, it is easy and natural to commend children for their intelligence. However, this comes with tremendous harm for the kids.

“Even when parents and educators know that it harms kids’ achievement motivation, it’s still easy to do. What our study shows is that the harm can go beyond motivation and extend to the moral domain. It makes a child more willing to cheat in order to do well,” says Heyman.

Promise Not To Cheat?

Heyman and his colleagues show that different types of praise will affect children in different ways, and this will include younger age groups than was previously known. Subtle differences in praise appear to generate responses from kindergarten and preschool children as well. These conclusions were reached after the researchers observed the behaviour of a group of 300 children in Eastern China. The participants were to play a guessing game after which they were praised, either for being smart or for their performance; some children constituted the control group whereby none was praised. The researchers made the kids promise not to cheat, and they left the room while observing them on hidden cameras.

It was found that those who were praised for being smart were more likely to cheat than those who were praised for doing well and those who received no praise at all. The results remained the same for both genders.

Praise & Pressure

What makes kids cheat when they are praised? According to a subsequent study conducted by the same co-authors and published in the journal Developmental Science, it was found that praising ability is associated with performance pressure. The same could not be said of praising performance. This is so because when praised for their intelligence, the children feel the pressure of having to perform well. When they are told that they have a reputation of being smart, they feel that they have to live up to these expectations. And so, they will be ready to cheat so that they don’t disappoint.

“We want to encourage children. We want them to feel good about themselves. But these studies show we must learn to give children the right kinds of praise, such as praising specific behavior. Only in this way will praise have the intended positive outcomes,” says co-author Kang Lee.

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