Her caution does come as a surprise because before this no one ever thought that praise could ever be dangerous in any way at all. It was widely believed that the students must be praised for their intelligence to boost their morale.
Carol's research unequivocally proves that praising students mindlessly is fraught with many pitfalls! She took 400 students from different cross sections of society and divided them into three different groups. They were passed through a simple puzzle test to begin with. Naturally, most of the students did well due to the simplicity of the work assigned. She deliberately praised the first group for their intelligence, the second for their effort and the third group's performance alone was acknowledged.
The group that was praised for their intelligence was scared to take up a more challenging assignment for fear of loss of face. The group that got applause for their superb effort looked forward to meeting a bigger challenge. The set of students who were neither praised for their intelligence nor effort stood somewhere in the middle; and Carol decided in favor of dropping them from her immediate focus.
In the second stage, the students were given comparatively tougher assignment and those who were praised for intelligence didn't do well at all and evinced no interest in further testing. The second test had obviously bruised their intellectual self-esteem which they had acquired during the first stage.
Those who were praised for their effort did remarkably well. Obviously, now they were armed with the knowledge that deliberate practice is one good strategy to attain peak performance. Moreover, they had no hang ups about their intellectual self esteem.
The final test sprang up startling results. The students were administered a very simple test at par with the first one. The first group's performance saw a continued downslide. They failed to recover from the psychological set back due to poor performance at the second stage. Carol S. Dweck said in one of her interviews, "And when they hit difficult problems, their enjoyment crashed, they thought they weren't smart anymore, and their performance on the IQ test plummeted. All from praising their intelligence!
"In contrast, praise or criticism that focused on children strategies or the efforts they made to succeed left them hardy, confident and in control when they confronted setbacks" (Dweck). The second group continued its forward march with renewed confidence in their effort related success.
Although, Carol S. Dweck has convincingly underlined the importance of learning process and conscious effort to succeed in life, one cannot forget that the ultimate guarantee of success lies in the combination of the two i.e. talent and hard work. It is a fact that mere reliance on talent is fruitless without strong effort.
Gloria Park in her article 'Praise and Performance' suggests, "In athletics, and in just about every other realm of life, talent alone is usually not enough to produce optimal performance and bring bounties of success. This is no secret. Hard work, dedication, and discipline usually hold more weight in the development of skills and ability, although having the talent to start never hurts".
The knowledge that one can improve one's talent through conscious effort can really help students gain a lot of self-confidence. Adele Faber writes, "We want to give our children the message that the process is as important as the product. We want them to value their ability to hang in there, to practice, to persist. We want them to view a mistake -- not as proof of failure -- but as an opportunity to learn something they never knew before." This will surely enhance their morale and will improve their performance considerably. Mere praise won't help rather it can be counter-productive.
Dweck, Carol S. Interview with Carol Dweck. Human Intelligence. Retrieved April 20, 2009.from http://www.iub.edu/%7Eintell/dweck_interview.shtml
Dweck, Carol S., Caution- Praise Can Be dangerous . American Educator. 1999
Faber, Adele. Re-Appraising Praise Faber/Mazlish Forum. retrieved April 20,2009, from
Park, Gloria. (March 8, 2007). Praise and Performance. Positive Psychology News daily.
Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://pos-psych.com/news/gloria-park/20070308151