Praise is good, but ……….

A study was carried out on 400 American 5th Graders by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, where the children were divided into two groups and they were given identical tasks to complete. When they had completed the tasks, one group was praised for their intelligence and the other group was praised for their effort.

The result was profound!

Afterwards, when the children were given the option to either choose easier tasks, or   more difficult tasks, of those who had been praised for their intelligence, 67% preferred to choose the easier tasks. However, from the group who had been praised for their effort, 92%  opted to tackle the more challenging tasks.

Carol Dweck explained this outcome in that:

  • People are extremely sensitive to what is going on in a situation, especially with regard to how other people judge and value them.
  • They would rather opt for the easier option when their intelligence and talent is called into question so that they do not make mistakes and are consequently perceived to be less intelligent and talented.
  • She calls this The Fixed Mindset because they would rather play it safe. She states that consequently, growth is limited.


  • When people are praised for their effort, they develop a Growth Mindset.
  • They see the more difficult challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • They are prepared to be stretched, to learn strategies and to practice more, even when mistakes are made.


The Fixed Mindset 

  • The belief that intelligence is innate and cannot be changed leads to a fixed mindset.
  • When presented with more difficult challenges, children would want to go back to easier tasks because they think that they are not smart enough for the more difficult task.
  • They become discouraged because they think that other people are judging their intelligence and they might fall short of expectations.


It is important to note that instead of praising the child’s intelligence by saying: “You are so clever!” or “Wow, that was an intelligent answer!” we should praise the effort that they had made. By doing so we will be encouraging a growth mindset….


The Growth Mindset  

  • When effort is praised, people realise that no matter who they are they can always become a great deal smarter through trying.
  • A positive attitude becomes prevalent when they realise that they can learn from the challenge.
  • They feel smart when they are working on something difficult and are making progress.
  • If they receive praise for their effort and for the process, they will try harder.

Carol Dweck: The Effect of Praise –

Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Points to Ponder …Be specific when praising the child’s efforts e.g. “It was great that you tried to sound out that difficult word!”

“Well done on listening so beautifully.”

“You worked really neatly and tried really hard.”

“You had such a great attitude when tackling that challenging task, awesome!”


Let us become aware of how we praise, especially of the power in the words we use. We have been socialised to praise and laud intelligence. However, it seems that this type of practice could lead to the opposite effect of what we intended by inhibiting the person.

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