Beyond Praise: Scientists Explain Why Receiving Compliments Improve Performance

By Helen Holmes on November 12, 2012

Praising is an excellent way to motivate someone to keep up the good work, and even strive harder to enhance their skills. If you reward a child with a sweet after scoring high in his exam, or just give words of encouragement and appreciation, that child is more likely do much better next time. The question is why exactly?

In psychological perspective, praising is a simple yet effective strategy that is designed to promote positive behaviour. This technique has been used for a long, long time in academic and corporate settings. For instance, students can obtain scholarships and rewards for academic excellence while employees can get promoted if they perform well.

But it was not until recently that experts gave an explanation for the effects of praise and rewards in a scientific perspective. A team of researchers, headed by Norihiro Sadato, professor at the National Institute for Physiological Science in Japan, carried out a study to find the scientific explanation on why people perform better after receiving a compliment.

Praising promotes better performance

For their study, the team recruited 48 adults to perform a motor skill activity which involved pushing the keys on a keyboard in a specific sequence. Their goal was to repeat the sequence correctly in the shortest possible time, maximum of 30 seconds.

Participants were divided into three groups. The first group was administered by an evaluator who complimented the participants individually. The second watched the first group receive a compliment, while the third group evaluated their own performance.

All the participants performed the same exercise the following day. After comparing the results, the researchers found that those in the ‘compliment’ group performed better than the individuals in the second and third group.

Their findings, which were published in the online journal Plos One, suggest that an area of the brain called striatum (also known as neostriatum or striate nucleus) is activated whenever someone receives a compliment or a reward. The striatum appears to encourage the person to perform better on exercises.

"To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded by money”, mentioned Professor Sadato. Their study suggests that complimenting someone could be an effective strategy that can be used in classrooms and rehabilitation centres.

Compliments have to be genuine

Sometimes, praising may lead to undesirable outcome. For example, if a parent always tells her child “you are the best student in the world”, “you’re the most beautiful girl ever”, etc. It isn’t likely to be helpful. Instead of striving hard to do better, people who receive compliments such as this may become too confident of their abilities that they may no longer aim for much better. Keeping compliments realistic and genuine is important if you want to motivate and inspire someone to excel.


Dear readers,

Do you utilise similar techniques during psychological therapy? Does praise motivate you to perform better?

Share your comments below.



Source of this article:

Social Rewards Enhance Offline Improvements in Motor Skill

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