Giving praise is fairly common place in classrooms, offices and in most homes.  Praise can have a big influence on confidence and motivation, however some types of praise can have unwanted and ongoing effects. This seems counterintuitive, how can giving someone praise possibly be bad for them?

Carol Dweck’s research on praise shows that when praise is based on intelligence (i.e “You are so clever ”) it can lead to the belief that intelligence is fixed.  Whereas praise that is based on effort can lead to the belief that intelligence is something than can be changed. This matters because a person who believes they cannot get better at something will put little effort into that activity. This becomes a vicious cycle as we know that effort and persistence is critical for successful learning outcomes.

This video gives a very succinct summary of a large body of research from Dweck explaining the effects of praising intelligence versus effort.

Mueller & Dweck’s 1998 research showed that children praised for intelligence cared more about performance goals, displayed lower ability attribution, less task persistence and enjoyment than children praised for effort. They also showed lower performance outcomes than children praised for effort.  When the intent of praise is to support and encourage the recipient, we certainly don’t want this outcome.  So what does praise for intelligence and praise for effort look like?

Praise for intelligence can look like:

·      Good girl

·      You are so clever

·      You are really good at Maths/sales

·      You are my best reader/worker

·      You are a natural at this, this is what you were born to do!

Praising for effort could look like:

·      I can see you have studied hard for your Maths test, your improvement really shows it. I have seen

       you practising and trying different strategies and that has worked well.

·      You resisted distraction and stuck with it and you achieved your goal. Excellent work!

·      It’s great that you are taking on this challenge, I know you are going to learn a lot from this.

What do you say when you praise for effort?  It would be great if you could share your own examples in the comments section so we could build a knowledge bank on praising for effort.

Jere Brophy (2008) also recommends that praise should be judicious.  Praise should not be delivered randomly; there must be reasons and standards by which praise is given out.  Brophy also suggests praise should be specific as this lets the learner know exactly what they did well so they can keep improving.  Praise also needs to be immediate as our working memory capacity is so limited and young children especially can lose the link between the positive actions they took and the outcome.

I hope that having an awareness of the different ways of framing praise and practising praise for effort will slowly change the vocabulary away from praising for intelligence to praising for effort.


Brophy, J.E. (1981). Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis. Review of Educational

Research. 51(1) (1981): 5-32.

Mueller, C.M., Dweck, C.S. (1998).  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,

75, 1.

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