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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Praising Young Children for Being Smart Promotes Cheating

Kang Lee is a brilliant researcher who is one of the very few professors at OISE who isn't a crazed Marxist. His early childhood psychology research is indeed groundbreaking, however it appears OISE never incorporates its results into their other programs.

Praise is one of the most commonly used forms of reward. It is convenient, is nearly effortless, and makes the recipient feel good. However, praising children for being smart carries unintended consequences: It can undermine their achievement motivation in a way that praising their effort or performance does not (Cimpian, Arce, Markman, & Dweck, 2007; Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; see Dweck, 2007). In this study, we investigated whether the negative consequences of praising children for being smart extend to the moral domain, by encouraging cheating.

There is some prior work suggesting that evaluative feedback can influence children’s moral behaviors (Fu, Heyman, Qian, Guo, & Lee, 2016; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Zhao, Heyman, Chen, & Lee, 2017). Telling 5-yearolds (but not younger children) that they have a reputation for being good leads to a reduction in their cheating, presumably because they are interested in maintaining this reputation (Fu et al., 2016). We propose that telling children that they are smart, a form of ability praise, may have the opposite effect by motivating them to cheat to appear smarter. In a study consistent with this possibility, Mueller and Dweck (1998) found that 10-year-olds exaggerated how well they had performed after receiving ability praise. However, little is known about whether ability praise can influence young children’s moral behavior. The present research addressed this question by comparing the effects of ability and performance praise on preschool children’s cheating.   
Participants were 300 preschool children in eastern China: one hundred fifty 3-year-olds (age range = 3.08 to 4.00 years, M = 3.62, SD = 0.27; 71 boys, 79 girls) and one hundred fifty 5-year-olds (age range = 5.01 to 6.00 years, M = 5.38, SD = 0.33; 78 boys, 72 girls). To measure cheating, we used a version of a wellestablished peeking paradigm (see Heyman, Fu, Lin, Qian, & Lee, 2015), in which an experimenter hides a playing card (with a number from 3 to 9, excluding 6) behind a barrier and children guess whether it is greater or less than 6. The children are told that they can win a prize if they guess correctly on at least three of the six trials.

The session began with a practice trial in which the children were told that they had guessed correctly. They were then randomly assigned to three conditions (50 children in each condition): In the ability condition, children were told, “You are so smart.” In the performance condition, they were told, “You did very well this time.” In the baseline condition, no praise was given.

The real guessing game, which was identical across the three conditions, followed this practice trial. On each trial, the children were instructed not to peek. Unbeknownst to them, the game was rigged to ensuresuccess on two of the first five trials and failure on three...

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