Praise, Criticize . . . Who Cares?

A fun Tversky and Kahneman finding that's easy to test on your own is the "regression to the mean" fallacy-- the super-duo of behavioral economics observed this and wrote a paper about fighter pilots, but it's also a great thesis for sporting events . . . here is the logic:

when you criticize someone after they commit a boneheaded mistake, they are likely to improve in their next attempt, but if you praise someone after a brilliant maneuver, they rarely repeat their excellence on the next try-- but this does not mean you should criticize everyone all the time . . . it's not the criticism or praise that causes the shift in performance, it's the regression to the mean . . . most of the time, people perform somewhere between excellence and boneheadedness-- especially if it's something in which they are fairly skilled, such as playing a sport or flying a plane, and so after a boneheaded error, there is a statistical likelihood to be an improvement-- a regression to the mean-- caused by math, not criticism, and after a brilliant performance, people are likely to regress back to their regular old average ways, so that it seems as if praising them actually had a deleterious effect . . . the takeaway is this: yell whatever you want at your kid's soccer match-- if you want to feel consequential, then criticize him, but if you want to have a pleasant time, then praise him-- because neither action has much consequence (especially if it's soccer, because your son or daughter probably can't hear you anyway).

4 comments:

zman said...

Based on all the boneheaded stuff you write about here you must be due for a deluge of brilliance ... unless you're just a bonehead and you're operating at your fully-regressed mean.

Dave said...

wait until today's sentence . . . you'll get your answer.

Neil Flanagan said...

Thank you for sharing...

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