Praise definitely can serve as a positive motivator for children. However, maybe because of different ways praise is usually applied in classroom settings for boys and girls, it has often been shown to be ineffective or even negative as it relates to motivation and self concept. So it’s important to recognize that different types of praise and different circumstances vary in terms of efficacy based on gender.
One factor that has been shown to be related to praise effectiveness is whether praise is focused on the person or some aspect of the performance such as the outcome or product or the process or effort. Praising the final product such as saying, “What a great essay,” or the process or effort such as saying, “You put in so much work on that project,” can be more reinforcing that praising the child such as as saying, “You are such a smart student.”.
However, the effectiveness of praise can vary based on the gender of the child. Research has suggested that girls may be especially susceptible to the negative effects of person praise particularly following subsequent failure. This is likely in part due to girls being more influenced by interpersonal relationships compared to boys. This can lead to more negative effects of praise when it focuses on external evaluations for girls than for boys.
So when girls are consistently praised for ability in success situations they may come to view themselves as the problem in subsequent failure situations instead of believing it is just a single instance and that their performance can change. Boys on the other hand, are less likely to be affected by external evaluations and interpersonal aspects of reinforcement. They are able to largely ignore person related praise from others, having greater internal standards of excellence and a sense of competency.
One explanation for the effect of person related evaluations cites the traditional socialization process. This process typically focuses on dependence and interpersonal conformity for females and independence and achievement for males. Over time this can result in female looking to others evaluations to gage their ability, intelligence and achievement while boys look to their own self-evaluations.
Other research also reinforces the gender effect observed for person related feedback. Women have been shown to be more affected than men by person related evaluation which they see as an accurate reflection of their capabilities. Men are more likely to rely on their own internal evaluative standards and tend to discount the evaluative feedback of others. These effects have been observed for both positive and negative feedback.
The gender differences in response to person related feedback stands to reason as teachers give boys more negative feedback for non-intelligence related matters such as messy papers or out of control behavior than girls. Boys are praised almost always for intelligence while girls are more often praised for good behavior and effort. Boys may come to see negative feedback as frequent and largely unrelated to intellect and ability while girls may view negative evaluation as rare and highly relevant to ability and intelligence. These gender related experiences may differentially influence how person and performance related praise affect how later failure is handled.
Subsequent studies have further supported these findings. For example, mothers’ use of person praise in everyday interactions with their. Another study showed that girls reported being more motivated by effort that ability praise while boys showed the opposite pattern. It seems possible that, based on the manner in which feedback is provided in the classroom, that girls may be more comfortable with effort related praise whereas boys may be more comfortable with ability related praise. These studies, however, only examined success experiences. It is possible that failure experiences may be more related to negative types of feedback.
The take away from this discussion is that using process related feedback seems to be important for girls in educational acievement while for boys focusing more on ability and person variable appears to be more motivating. Overall, however, it is important to teach children how to evaluate external feedback in terms of when it is constructive and when it is not instead of based on their emotional response. Children should be guided in ways that help them develop self worth, self confidence and perceptions of competency based on their own realistic evaluations of their strengths.
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