The Paradoxical Effect of Praise and Blame: Age-Related Differences


  • Kai Kaspar
  • Helena Stelz


Blame and praise sometimes have a seemingly paradoxical effect: blame after failure sometimes leads to the impression that the recipient has a high ability. In contrast, praise after success can lead to an inference of low ability. Several studies showed this effect and its relation to concurrent sympathy ratings as well as to cognitive schemas underlying these estimations. The present study is the first to focus on differences across the adult lifespan regarding peoples’ ability and sympathy estimations of praised or blamed individuals. In this context, the causal schemas underlying peoples’ judgments were also investigated. The results show that seemingly paradoxical ability estimations were independent of age in contrast to reversed ability estimations (i.e., a praised individual is perceived as more capable than a blamed individual) decreasing with age. Moreover, age affected the estimation of a teacher’s sympathy for blamed and praised students in terms of a universal decrease with age. Finally, exclusive ability-related causal schemas were primarily used by older people and facilitated the occurrence of seemingly paradoxical ability estimations. The results provide a first base for future research on this largely neglected topic.