Unearned praise may be just as much of a bummer as undeserved criticism.
New research finds that over-praising ourselves is as counterproductive as beating ourselves up. Or, as the title of the article puts it, “Both Self-Effacement and Self-Enhancement Can Lead to Dejection.”
The aha moment for me in this article is Study 4, when participants did a task (unscrambling anagrams) and, without knowing their actual score, randomly received either positive or negative performance feedback. (A control group received no feedback.) Then they completed a survey about the experiment that had buried in it questions used to measure dejection.
Everyone who was told they did poorly felt dejected, but people who in reality performed well but got negative feedback were more bummed than those who performed poorly and were told the truth. Not surprising.
But I was a little surprised that people who were told they did well even though they didn’t were more dejected than people who did poorly and were told they did poorly.
This research is part of the push back against the self-esteem movement, in which everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. For a long time, we believed that there’s no such thing as too much praise. Now we’re learning that unearned praise has its own burdens and pitfalls.
In other words, reality is good for us.