What good is labeling what's good? A field experimental investigation of parental labeled praise and child compliance

Behav Res Ther. 2016 Dec;87:134-141. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2016.09.008. Epub 2016 Sep 18.


There is a need to identify the "effective ingredients" of evidence-based behavior therapies. We tested the effects of one of the most common ingredients in parenting interventions for preventing disruptive child behavior, referred to as labeled praise (e.g., "well done picking up your toys"), which is typically recommended in preference to unlabeled praise (e.g., "well done"). We compared the effects of labeled praise, unlabeled praise, and no praise on child compliance in two experiments. Experiment 1 included 161 4 to 8 year-old community sample children and tested immediate effects of praise. Experiment 2 included 132 3 to 9 year-old children with varying levels of disruptive behavior and tested immediate and two-week effects of praise. In Experiment 1, teaching parents to use labeled praise did not increase immediate child compliance, whereas teaching them to use unlabeled praise did. In Experiment 2, teaching parents to use labeled praise for two weeks reduced disruptive child behavior, but this effect was of a similar magnitude to that for unlabeled praise. Parents preferred the use of unlabeled over labeled praise. These findings suggest that parental praise promotes child compliance, but the addition of labeling the specific positive behavior may not be of incremental value.

Keywords: Compliance; Disruptive child behavior; Field experiment; Labeled praise; Parenting intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Problem Behavior / psychology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology