A new study reviews the efficacy of positive and negative feedback and how the different styles work to motivate individuals of various skill levels.
Researchers learned that the skill level of the individual determines the best approach as novices are more motivated by positive feedback than experts, who prefer a stern assessment.
“In our work, we asked: When is positive or negative feedback more effective for motivating behavior and changing attitudes as a function of a person’s expertise level?” write authors Stacey Finkelstein, a doctoral candidate, and Ayelet Fishbach, Ph.D., both of the University of Chicago.
We all receive incessant feedback on our actions and habits. Often the feedback is directly associated with changing or reinforcing behavior.
For example, doctors advise patients on how to improve their health or praise them for healthy habits; the beauty industry provides feedback to consumers on what products and services they could use to improve their appearances; and fitness trainers give tips and praise to their clients.
Given this background, researchers examined how beginners or novices compare to experts in response to a variety of feedback approaches.
“In a series of five studies, we find that novices seek more positive feedback than experts and they respond more to this feedback as measured by their willingness to pay for future beauty services, donate to environmental organizations, and even in their evaluations of a media message,” the authors write.
They also found the opposite to be true: Experts sought and responded better to negative feedback. The findings apply to a variety of situations, a discovery that could guide health educators, marketers or teachers.
In one study, the authors looked at students who were enrolled in beginning and advanced French courses.
They discovered that novices were more likely to change their behaviors if their instructors provided positive feedback on their progress. Meanwhile, the advanced students were more motivated after receiving feedback showing they had made insufficient progress.
“These findings suggest that to promote motivation and change attitudes, marketers should differentially target novices and experts,” the authors said.
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.