Turnertoys Home Page: favorite American Classic Toys Ideas, Essays, Reports on health, toy safety, psychology, and whatever else interests us
© 1971 - 2008 Edward Loewenton
 Health, toy safety, psychology, and whatever interests us

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   When I reward your behavior I assume some degree of ownership for that behavior; I stake a claim in the territory of your behavior. 

   If I am paying you for a work, thanking you for a favor,or praising you for a good musical performance, my stake is real and legitimate. In the last example, we note that a fan's homage is in part an act of sharing the achievement. 

   If I reward you for doing something that you regard as entirely your own - such as a creative act, or play behavior, or a purely personal act , I am presumptuous, and perhaps resented. How would you respond if I thanked you for brushing your teeth?!

   Praise, like thanks, as a non-material reward, is especially sensitive to these conditions.  It is a form of payment, and as such, creates an obligation. 

   When applied to play or creative behavior, it presumes an obligation when none was desired by the player. (This is why creative types must cultivate the ability to accept praise, or even, in the extreme case, to accept money!)  

  However, when the praiser is a salient figure (such as Mom or Dad, an employer or a teacher) seen as able to provide desired material reward, the praise has the same proxy value as the cricket click in the hand of the dog trainer: it indicates an increased likelihood of reward. 

   I would guess that if a child is praised too often and too aggressively for creative and idiosyncratic play behavior, the value of self-initiated and intrinsically motivated (and non-materially-rewarding) behavior might be diminished. 

   The expression of admiration for something well-done, however, when clearly genuine, is neutral in that sense, and another matter.

 ©1996 Edward Loewenton   

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