How the Accuracy of Criticism & Praise Influence Children's Learning

Independent research conducted at
Interpersonal Perception & Communication Lab @ Stanford University
Oct 2013 - Aug 2014

Study Background

Young children receive social feedback - both positive and negative - from people around them all the time. But those feedback might not be always accurate. How do children react to inaccurate criticism and praise, and how does this contribute to their learning of the world? This study was conducted to understand how children perceive inaccurate social feedback & how they judge other people based on it.

Research Methods + Design

1-on-1 survey & interview (10-15 minutes each) with study participants, after ample amount of empathy-building through field studies. The study started with a self-reflective survey on self-esteem rating. Then the participants were to conduct a card-sorting task while three social agents (=puppets) give criticism and praise - both accurate and inaccurate - based on their performances. Finally, through contextual inquiry participants rated how much they like each agent & how competent they are.

These interviews were conducted in individual user-study rooms at Bing Nursery School (Palo Alto, CA). All interviews were video-recorded to be coded and analyzed later.

My Role

As a Research Assistant at the Interpersonal Perception & Communication Lab,

  • Designed and scripted the research sessions and conducted 5+ pilots
  • Recruited and screened potential participants for qualifications and availability
  • Booked study sessions and set them up
  • Conducted 1-on-1 study sessions with 50+ participants
  • Coded and analyzed user interviews and data with Excel and SPSS
  • Communicated findings with supervisor and principal investigators

Conclusion + Impact

Children prefer the one who gives unconditional praise even when it is inaccurate. Furthermore they confounded him/her as the most competent agent out of all. Also continuous unconditional praise decreased children's performance on the card-sorting task.

The study helped understand the social paradigm of children & how their performance could be improved through accurate feedback. It affirmed the results from past research while providing possible ideas on further studying children's interpersonal perception in the future.

What I learned

From this research project I learned:

  • Better interviewing practices - asking open-ended questions, framing questions well so they do not interfere with users' judgment, hearing out, providing just the right amount of scaffolding, preventing Hawthorne Effect.
  • The power of empathizing with users - no matter how young they are
  • How to effectively analyze findings through quantitative and qualitative methods


Under my supervisor Maria Barth and Prof. Nalini Ambady, I presented my research results at the PsychSummer poster session in August 2014 (Stanford, CA).

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