The effect of content and tone of maternal evaluative feedback on self-cognitions and affect in young children

Judy Garber, Sherryl H. Goodman, Steven M. Brunwasser, Sarah A. Frankel, Catherine G. Herrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Feedback that young children receive from others can affect their emotions and emerging self-views. The current experiment tested the effect of negative content (criticism) and negative tone (hostile) of the feedback on children's affect, self-evaluations, and attributions. We also explored whether maternal history of depression and children's temperament moderated these relations. Participants were 152 mothers and children (48% girls) aged 4 and 5 years (M = 61.6 months, SD = 6.83). The task involved three scenarios enacted by dolls; a child doll made something (e.g., picture, house, numbers) that had a mistake (e.g., no windows on the house) and proudly showed it to the mother doll, who then gave feedback (standardized, audio recorded) to the child. Children were randomized to one of four maternal feedback conditions: negative or neutral content in either a negative or neutral tone. Negative content (criticism) produced significantly more negative affect and lower self-evaluations than neutral content. When the tone of the feedback was hostile, children of mothers who had been depressed during the children's lifetimes were significantly more likely to make internal attributions for mistakes than children of nondepressed mothers. In addition, among children with low temperamental negative affectivity, in the presence of negative tone, negative content significantly predicted more internal attributions for the errors. Findings are discussed in terms of understanding the role of evaluative feedback in children's emerging social cognitions and affect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-165
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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