University Study Finds Constructive Criticism, Not Undeserved Praise, Is More Helpful to Black Students

A new study led by Davis S. Yeager, an assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, finds that praising African American students for mediocre work in an effort to boost self-esteem can actually have just the opposite effect. Offering praise for substandard work can be seen as patronizing by Black students, particularly when the undeserved praise comes from a White teacher, according to the study.

In three separate studies conducted in public schools in Connecticut and New York City, Black students who were given constructive criticism of their work followed by statements that the teachers had higher expectations, performed far better on subsequent assignments than students who were not given constructive criticism.

The study, “Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide,” was published on the website of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and may be accessed here.

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