When you want to encourage someone who doubts themselves, a common strategy is to exaggerate your praise. One recent set of studies suggests that rather than helping, this may make the problem worse.
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The studies found two correlated phenomenon. Parents were more likely to offer excessive or inflated praise to children that were identified as having low self-esteem. A related study found that, after receiving the inflated praise, children with low self-esteem were less likely to try new challenges:
After receiving the note, the children were told they were going to draw other pictures, but they could choose which ones they would copy. They were told they could choose pictures that were easy to do, “but you won’t learn much”. Or they could choose to draw more difficult pictures in which “you might make many mistakes, but you’ll definitely learn a lot too”.
According to the researchers, children with low self-esteem were more likely to choose the easier pictures if they received inflated praise. By contrast, children with high self-esteem were more likely to choose the more difficult pictures if they received inflated praise.
While the studies involved children, the results seem applicable to adults too: when you’re faking or inflating your praise, people seem to know. While it can be tempting to feign a little enthusiasm to make someone feel better, exaggeration won’t help.
Inflated Praise Can Harm Kids With Low Self-Esteem [Psych Central]