People who give positive encouragement and constructive criticism could be wasting their breath according to the latest research from a psychology expert at Queen Mary, University of London.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that when people received either positive or negative feedback about their performance on complex decision-making tasks, it made their decision making worse.
Study author Dr Magda Osman explained: “The kind of task people had to perform was difficult and demanding. So, when people received positive or negative feedback, it overloaded them with too much information and distracted them from making a good decision.
“We found that people’s performance got worse when they had to make sense of the feedback they were given while also performing the main task.
“The role of feedback is overemphasised. People typically think that any form of feedback should improve performance in many tasks, and the more frequently it is given the better performance will be.
“However what needs to be considered is how complex the task is in the first place, because this will determine how much feedback will actually interfere with rather than facilitate performance.”
The study involved about 100 people who were given the task of choosing how best to either predict or control the state of health of a baby, revealing that feedback can play a negative role in a particularly complex decision-making scenario.
However Dr Osman said this type of finding can be generalised and applied to a variety of other complex situations.
“The introduction of smart energy meters into the home to monitor the amount of energy you’re consuming seems like a nice ‘green’ idea to help you consume less energy, but the complexity of the feedback people receive may not necessarily help them to reduce their energy consumption,” she said.