Why compliments improve performance

The saying 'you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar' may have a greater bearing on managers in future, after a study found scientific evidence as to why people perform better after being given a compliment. Research carried out by a group led by Professor Norihiro Sadato of the Japanese National Institute for Psychological Sciences suggests when part of the brain is activated it encourages a person to do better in exercises.

When completing a task involving pressing buttons, participants who were given direct compliments from evaluators did better than those from other groups, indicating that receiving this kind of encouragement stimulates the individual to perform well.

Funded by the Japanese government's Sciences Research Grant, the team included Graduate University for Advanced Studies graduate student Sho Sugawara, Nagoya Institute of Technology Tenure-Track Associate Professor Satoshi Tanaka and Professor Katsumi Watanabe of the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology.

"To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money," Professor Sadato explained.

Chartered Psychologist Kate Keenan says:

"The results of this study are curiously reminiscent of the Hawthorrne Studies carried out in the USA in the 1920s and 30s where teams worked in various environments where the light levels were decreased, but output still increased, even when it was difficult to see the work to be done. While the results of these early studies have since been disputed, one of the key results that emerged was that it was the atmosphere which developed within the experimental teams and the support from the researchers who were observing the work that greatly contributed to enhanced levels of motivation and job satisfaction.

So while this effect is not new, what is new and interesting in this study is the aspect relating to the role of neuroscience in providing an explanation of how praise and encouragement can enhance the motivation to work hard. The findings that specific parts of the brain are activated is very interesting and Professor Sadato's comment that to the brain, praise is a motivating as money, hints at positive implications for improving levels of motivation within the workforce.

Being praised, from a common sense point of view, would seen to be beneficial. These findings reinforce a lesson which modern management would be well advised to revisit and enact –  that giving praise costs nothing and produces significant benefits which support continued levels of motivation within organisations."