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Are perceptions, psychological consequences, and behavioral outcomes influenced by repeated (i.e., multiple-occasion) feedback delivery?

Are perceptions, psychological consequences, and behavioral outcomes influenced by repeated (i.e., multiple-occasion) feedback delivery?

We explored, in three experiments, how subjective percep-

tions, psychological consequences, and behavioral outcomes

are impacted within a particular type of feedback and also

between types of feedback. We were concerned with task level

feedback (i.e., how well tasks are performed; Hattie & Tim-

perley, 2007) and externally-framed (rather than internally-

framed) feedback (MoEller, Pohlmann, Koeller, & Marsh,

2009). Further, we focused on feedback that was (a) based on

multiple testing occasions; (b) delivered to recipients sequen-

tially (i.e., at each testing juncture) or cumulatively (i.e., at

the end of the testing session); and (c) assessed (in terms of

perceptions, psychological consequences, and behavioral out-

comes) sequentially or cumulatively. Enhancing feedback was

consistently positive (e.g., percentile rankings in relation to

other test-takers could be 92, 90, 91, and 92 across four ses-

sions), whereas improving feedback tracked an upward per-

formance trajectory (e.g., percentile rankings in relation to

other test-takers could be 59, 68, 81, and 92 across four

sessions).

Theoretical and practical considerations

Our exploratory foray was informed by two contrasting theo-

retical perspectives. The self-enhancement perspective posits

that individuals strive mostly for information positivity, with

information improvement value playing a secondary hand

(Alicke & Sedikides, 2011; Brown & Dutton, 1995; Dunning,

2005; Hepper, Gramzow, & Sedikides, 2010; Sedikides &

Strube, 1997). This perspective predicts that enhancing (i.e.,

uniformly-positive) feedback will be perceived as more satis-

fying than improving (i.e., upward-trajectory) feedback, and

also as generally more satisfying than useful, because of its

hedonic tone. The perspective also anticipates that enhancing

feedback will exert stronger psychological and behavioral

impact than improving feedback. The self-improvement per-

spective, on the other hand, posits that individuals strive

mostly for improvement information, giving secondary

importance to information positivity (Gregg, Sedikides, &

Gebauer, 2011; Markman, Elizaga, Ratcliff, & McMullen,

2007; Prelec & Loewenstein, 1997; Sedikides & Hepper, 2009;

Taylor, Neter, & Wayment, 1995). This perspective predicts

that improving feedback will be perceived as more useful

than enhancing feedback, and also as generally more useful

than satisfying, because of its utilitarian value. Further, this

perspective anticipates that improving feedback will have

greater psychological and behavioral impact than enhancing

feedback. Although the two perspectives make general pre-

dictions about perceptions of feedback, they do not offer spe-

cific enough guidance about perceptions of feedback at

distinct junctures of delivery or assessment; this is a matter of

exploration.

Not only will the investigation of perceptions, psychologi-

cal consequences, and behavioral outcomes of enhancing and

improving feedback stretch the scope of the self-

enhancement and self-improvement perspectives, but it will

also address external validity issues. In ecological settings

(e.g., occupational environments, classrooms, artistic per-

formances, athletic events), feedback is often targeted toward

both enhancement and improvement, while being delivered

on multiple (as opposed to single) occasions. In addition, in

organizational settings, employees appear to desire, not just

self-enhancement feedback, but constructive or self-

improvement feedback, if one were to consult popular busi-

ness coaching and training books (e.g., Silberman & Hans-

burg, 2005). Self-improvement motivation has indeed been

investigated in such settings as organizations (Seifert, Yukl, &

McDonald, 2003), university enrolment (Clayton & Smith,

1987), the classroom (Harks, Rakoczy, Hattie, Besser, &

Klieme, 2014; Ryan, Gheen, & Midgley, 1998), volunteering

(Dickinson, 1999), correctional facilities (Neiss, Sedikides,

Shahinfar, & Kupersmidt, 2006), and enlistment in the army

(Pliske, Elig, & Johnson, 1986); however, perceptions of

improving feedback juxtaposed to perceptions of enhancing

feedback, as well as comparative psychological consequences

and behavioral outcomes, have not been addressed.

Perceptions of feedback satisfaction and usefulness ought

to be investigated for both theoretical and practical reasons.

Satisfaction reflects the affective and valence focus of the self-

enhancement motive, whereas usefulness reflects the con-

structive focus of the self-improvement motive. Moreover, in

organizational settings for example, it is arguably vital for

feedback (e.g., appraisals) to be perceived as useful in order

688 Enhancing and improving feedback

VC 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2016, 46, pp. 687–700

for staff to engage with both feedback and management in a

mutually beneficial manner. In addition, organizations, espe-

cially those competing for talent, are often under pressure to

devise ways to keep their staff satisfied.

Experiment 1: sequential feedback delivery and cumulative feedback assessment

In Experiment 1, we addressed, for the first time, subjective

perceptions of self-enhancing and self-improving feedback.

We note that in this and all subsequent experiments, we (a)

randomly assigned participants to between-subjects factors

of balanced designs, (b) tested participants in individual

cubicles, and (c) obtained no sex differences or counterbal-

ancing order effects.

Participants were under the impression that they were test-

ed in four key domains of human functioning: creativity, ver-

bal intelligence, social sensitivity, analytical ability. Numerical

feedback, either enhancing or improving, was delivered at

several (i.e., four) junctures, and feedback perceptions were

assessed cumulatively at the end of the testing session. The

starting point for enhancing and improving feedback was dif-

ferent (positive for enhancing, average for improving), but

the end-point was identical (i.e., positive). While providing a

preliminary test of the self-enhancement and self-improvement

perspective, the experiment simulated multiple-occasion feed-

back delivery to employees, students, actors, or athletes by a

supervisor, instructor, director, or coach, respectively. Would

such feedback be perceived as satisfying or useful at the end of

a business quarter, academic semester, rehearsal period, or ath-

letic event?

Method

Participants and design

Participants were 102 introductory psychology students at

University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (71 female, 31

male), who volunteered for course credit. Information about

participant age is unavailable, due to a coding error. Never-

theless, the vast majority of participants were traditional stu-

dents, aged between 18 and 22 years. The design was a 2

(feedback type: enhancing, improving) 3 2 (feedback rating: satisfaction, usefulness) mixed factorial, with repeated mea-

sures on the latter factor.

Procedure and measures

Participants learned that they would be assessed on four piv-

otal domains of human functioning: creativity, verbal intelli-

gence, social sensitivity, analytic ability. The relevant tests had

ostensibly been standardized and administered to university

students since 1985 by the Educational Testing Service in

order to study the impact of the university environment on

social skills. Participants were then handed a booklet contain-

ing the tests, which were divided into four sections. They

received feedback (featuring an enhancing or improving tra-

jectory) after each section.

The first section, consisting of Raven’s Progressive Matrices

(RPM; 10 minutes), assessed creativity. Participants learned

that the RPM measures spatial perception and creativity, and

is a valid indicator of superior memory and innovative think-

ing. The RPM comprised eight questions. Participants deci-

phered a pattern in the displayed figures and selected, from

eight choices, the correct item to complete the pattern. Feed-

back followed.

The second section, consisting of the Verbal Fluency Test

(4 minutes) and the Analogies Test (5 minutes), assessed ver-

bal intelligence. Participants learned that better test scores

were associated with higher IQ and greater professional suc-

cess. For the Verbal Fluency Test, participants were given two

sets of four letters (L, C, E, N; F, O, S, P) and were asked to

generate as many 4-word sentences as possible using the

specified first letters for each word. For the Analogies Test,

participants were to complete 10 analogies. They received

three words, the first two of which were related. Their task

was to pick the word that related to the stimulus word in the

same way as the first two words. For example, the correct

answer for the analogy “Shoe: Foot:: Glove: (a. Arm, b.

Elbow, c. Hand)” would be Hand, because Hand is related to

Glove in the same way as Foot is related to Shoe. Feedback

followed.

The third section, consisting of the Perception of Relation-

ships Test (5 minutes) and the Perception of Deception Test (5

minutes), assessed social sensitivity. Participants learned that

individuals who performed well on these tasks were more

adept at solving interpersonal conflicts and had longer-

lasting relationships. We adapted the Perception of Relation-

ships Test from the Social-Cognitive Aptitude Test (Crocker,

Thompson, McGraw, & Ingerman, 1987). Participants read

paragraphs about two couples and indicated their impression

of each couple, whether the couple members were supportive

of each other, and the likelihood that each couple would still

be together in one year. In the Perception of Deception Test,

participants read two incidents (a man late for a date, a city

council member accused of neglecting to report campaign

contributions). Then participants indicated their impression

of each character, the quality of the relationship in the first

incident, the popularity of the city council member in the

second incident, and whether the main characters were lying.

Feedback followed.

The fourth and final section, consisting of the Analytical

Ability Test (9 minutes), assessed logical reasoning. Partici-

pants learned that better performance was linked with success

in careers that involve critical thinking skills. The test asked

participants to determine in what grade each of eight

Sedikides et al. 689

VC 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2016, 46, pp. 687–700

children was and what costume they wore in the Thanksgiv-

ing pageant. Feedback followed.

The feedback, in the form of percentile rankings in rela-

tion to other university student test-takers, was either

enhancing or improving across the test sections. In the

enhancing condition, participants received feedback that

started at a high level and remained constant. The section

scores were: 92, 90, 91, 92. In the improving condition, par-

ticipants received feedback that started relatively low and

became progressively higher.

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