In Criticism of Praise
Sang sent me the following email which I feel speaks powerfully to how all beings need to feel in control of what they're experiencing and how this runs counter to the impulse we have that tries to control everything about our dogs, even in the way we praise.
I've been reading this book Nurture Shock, which is about some new interesting research about raising kids. It's pretty interesting.
But the first chapter is called, of all things, "The Inverse Power of Praise". How about that?
In this chapter, one of the things they talk about, which I think has direct correlation to what we have talked about before, is the overuse of praise. Up til now, there has been this notion that parents should praise their kids to build their self esteem. Everyone habitually praises their kids. “You’re so smart kiddo”. Always telling them how great they are, or how capable they are, even going as far as putting reaffirming notes in kids’ lunchboxes. Boys are earning baseball cards for clearing their plates at dinner. And girls are earning manicures for doing their homework. These kids are saturated with messages that they’re doing great. That they ARE great, innately so. They are constantly told that they have what it takes. The presumption is that if a child believes he is smart, then he won’t be intimidated by new academic challenges. It had been shown that praise for intelligence would boost a child’s confidence. And it seemed to work. But a researcher from Columbia University, Dr. Carol Dweck, believed that all this praise would eventually backfire. They started to find that praising children for being smart may not be keeping kids from underperforming, it might actually be causing it. So she spent 10 years testing 5th graders, and she found something very interesting.
They started giving the 5th graders these easy, non verbal IQ tests that they would all do well on. When they were graded and the score was given to them, they were each given one single line of praise. Some were praised for their intelligence. You must be really smart at this. The others were praised for their effort. You must have worked really hard.
Then, they were given a choice to take one of 2 tests. The first option was another puzzle that would be harder, but the students would learn something from it. The other would be an easy test, just like the first test they took. Of those praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder test. Of those praised for their intelligence, the majority chose the easier test. They took the cop out.
Dweck wrote that when we praise kids for their intelligence, we teach them that is the name of the game. That it’s more important to look smart. Don’t risk making mistakes.
In a subsequent test, the 5th graders were all given a test that was 2 years ahead of their capacity. So inevitably, all the students failed the test. However, the students reacted differently based on the praise they were given during the first test. Those praised for their effort got very involved, trying every possible solution to figure out the answer. They even said how this was their favorite test, because it really engaged them. Not so for the ones praised for their smarts. They assumed that their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. They were visibly stressed while taking the test. They were nervous and even sweating.
They were all then given a final test, just as easy as the first. Those praised for effort improved their scores significantly. By an average of 30%. Those praised for intelligence did worse, by about 20%.
Emphasizing effort gives the child a variable they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence, takes it out of the child’s control. It provides no good recipe for responding to a failure. And that can be said about any talent, whether it’s intelligence, artistic, athletic etc…..if you don’t prepare kids to be able to handle failure, then the results can be devastating when they do fail.
Just like with the dogs, when you remove their sense of control, they panic. But give them the feeling that they have control, and they feel safe.
Just had to share that, as I found that very interesting in regards to how we fry our dogs. Since dogs are our mirrors, and we're frying them, then surely we must be frying our kids too.