About Me

My photo
To listen to my latest recording, view my complete profile and then click on "audio clip" under "links"

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dessert After Chicken Or Egg? Or...In Between?

Preference - performance - praise? Or, performance - praise - preference? Or...

It started when my younger sister asked if I thought my project to fully memorize 300 jazz standards was helping my memory improve in domains aside from music. While trying to land on an answer to her question, I suddenly found myself mired in an old chicken/egg story, although this one has dessert as well.

Although I'd been exposed to it earlier, during my graduate studies the reinforcing loop educational psychologists have identified involving performance, preference & praise began troubling me. In particular, I started questioning exactly where in that loop the praise - dessert - is more likely to fall. That is, do we begin by having a preferred way of tackling things and if that leads to a positive outcome (aka performance) the subsequent praise reinforces that preference? Or, must the praise follow the performance in order to drive our preferences, increasing our confidence and leading to more performance? Where does trial and error fit into the model?

And what about people who don't need dessert as much as say, I do? Is it possible their loop begins with the intrinsic satisfaction they derive from any performance and that is what largely drives their future preferences even before praise enters the picture? Happy to report the conversation with my sister moved to our respective parenting styles so this particular chicken, egg and dessert are back in the deep freeze for now. What is your view on where the dessert belongs in this meal?


  1. With five children to use as my personal guinea pigs, I get to enjoy watching the reinforcing loop each day. Being aware of where each of my children stand for any given circumstance helps me to know just how to encourage them in a positive direction. I have observed that as my children grow older, and as they attempt or conquer tasks of varying personal desire, the pieces of the loop seem to change position.

    My son, the oldest, has consistently maintained an intrinsic "dessert", deriving the most pleasure from his personal challenges, often physically avoiding any extrinsic praise. This, I should add, is where I personally find myself as well. Simply knowing that he's met a personal goal seems to fuel his confidence to move onward and upward. For him, trial and error are a quiet piece, simply part of the puzzle that leads to the accomplishment.

    On to my four girls...here it is much more interesting. My girls seem to fluctuate based on their interest in the goal as well as their ages. All of my girls benefit from the extrinsic praise of those around them, whether parent, teacher or peer. (Further, and somewhat worrisome, is that it often does not seem to matter to them from whom the praise originates. But that's probably another discussion.) As for the order, it can seem that as long as there is praise, whether it comes ahead of the task or after holds little consequence. Once praised, they are encouraged to move forward to more performance. But looking more closely, it is apparent that my two older girls really do try harder when they are praised ahead of time. So presenting either with a new task while simultaneously praising their previous accomplishments, or ensuring them of confidence that they can succeed, seems to go a long way in determining the effort they will put forth. My two younger girls, however, will attempt things quietly, sharing the outcome only when they feel they have achieved success...and then basking in the praise.

    It was good for me to visit this today and think about where my children are right now. Of course, tomorrow might be a completely different story!

    Thanks, Pat!

    1. d; I hit the jackpot today - four wonderful comments from the same astute person - I started this blog aiming for exactly this result so thanks (again!). I really like how this post facilitated some reflection about each of your five children; thanks for sharing that. We all like that dessert but clearly some are able to postpone it much longer than others and some seem to barely need it at all.