Person Versus Process Praise and Criticism: Implications for Contingent Self-Worth and Coping

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Abstract

Conventional wisdom suggests that praising a child as a whole or praising his or her traits is beneficial. Two studies tested the hypothesis that both criticism and praise that conveyed person or trait judgments could send a message of contingent worth and undermine subsequent coping. In Study 1, 67 children (ages 5–6 years) role-played tasks involving a setback and received 1 of 3 forms of criticism after each task: person, outcome, or process criticism. In Study 2, 64 children role-played successful tasks and received either person, outcome, or process praise. In both studies, self-assessments, affect, and persistence were measured on a subsequent task involving a setback. Results indicated that children displayed significantly more “helpless” responses (including self-blame) on all dependent measures after person criticism or praise than after process criticism or praise. Thus person feedback, even when positive, can create vulnerability and a sense of contingent self-worth.

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