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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01883

The effects of ability and effort praise on children’s failure attribution, self-handicapping, and performance

  • 1Capital Normal University, China
  • 2Beijing Normal University, China
  • 3Zhejiang University, China

Previous research has suggested that children praised for ability are more likely to attribute their failure to low-ability compared to those praised for effort. However, Self-worth Theory suggests that when individuals’ self-worth is threatened, protection strategies such as self-serving attributional strategy and self-handicapping would be adopted. In the perspective of Self-worth Theory, the current study investigated how ability and effort praise influenced children’s failure attribution, self-handicapping and their subsequent performance compared to simple informational feedback. Fifth graders (N = 103, average age = 11.2 years, SD = 0.71) were randomly assigned to three conditions of different feedbacks. Results revealed that children praised for ability were more likely to attribute their subsequent failure to non-ability factors and show more claimed and behavioral self-handicapping than children praised for effort and in control conditions. As the behavioral self-handicapping created actual obstacles, children praised for ability made significantly less improvement in the performance than those in other two groups. In addition, the current study showed that children praised for effort also adopted the claimed self-handicapping and defensive attributional strategy compared to those in no-praise condition. Results indicated that parents and teachers should haphazardly administer praises, especially ability praise. Implications for parents, teachers and the further researches, including the replication of this study in diverse cultural settings, conditions of effort praise and effects of other type of praises, are discussed.

Keywords: Praise, ability, effort, failure attribution, self-handicapping.

Received: 16 Oct 2017; Accepted: 13 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Jesus De La Fuente, Universidad de Navarra, Spain

Reviewed by:

Ove E. Hatlevik, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
JESÚS NICASIO GARCÍA SÁNCHEZ, Universidad de León, Spain  

Copyright: © 2018 Xing, Gao, Jiang, Archer and Liu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Xia Liu, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China,