On feeding those hungry for praise: person praise backfires in children with low self-esteem

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):9-14. doi: 10.1037/a0031917. Epub 2013 Feb 18.


Child-rearing experts have long believed that praise is an effective means to help children with low self-esteem feel better about themselves. But should one praise these children for who they are, or for how they behave? Study 1 (N = 357) showed that adults are inclined to give children with low self-esteem more person praise (i.e., praise for personal qualities) but less process praise (i.e., praise for behavior) than they give children with high self-esteem. This inclination may backfire, however. Study 2 (N = 313; M(age) = 10.4 years) showed that person praise, but not process praise, predisposes children, especially those with low self-esteem, to feel ashamed following failure. Consistent with attribution theory, person praise seems to make children attribute failure to the self. Together, these findings suggest that adults, by giving person praise, may foster in children with low self-esteem the very emotional vulnerability they are trying to prevent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Self Concept*