Behavioral scientists have contended for a while, that young children learn better when given positive, rather than negative, feedback. Here is a nifty study comparing brain activity in 8 year olds vs. 12 year olds. Learning differences in young children.Key quote………..

“Brain areas for cognitive control
The switch in learning strategy has been demonstrated in behavioural research, which shows that eight-year-olds respond disproportionately inaccurately to negative feedback. But the switch can also be seen in the brain, as developmental psychologist Dr Eveline Crone and her colleagues from the Leiden Brain and Cognition Lab discovered using fMRI research. The difference can be observed particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive control. These areas are located in the cerebral cortex.
Opposite case
In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback. But in children of 12 and 13, and also in adults, the opposite is the case. Their ‘control centres’ in the brain are more strongly activated by negative feedback and much less by positive feedback.”

Those of us interested in educational issues were probably aware of the importance of positive feedback as a primary learning tool for younger kids. For me, it was nice to see this validated with some science at the physiologic level, ruling out exclusively environmental influences.

This also hit home, since my son and I were listening to NPR on the way home from buying new rain gear on Saturday. They were discussing some of the work of James Heckman and similar researchers. These researchers have been looking at early childhood and learning. They noted that a child from a poor family heard there parents use 20 million less words during childhood, than a child of middle class parents would hear. A child of poverty would hear 500,000 discouraging words and 80,000 positive or encouraging words. A child of the middle class would experience the opposite.

If you put this new MRI study together with Heckman’s work, it is not surprising that it is difficult to transcend class. We have had a tendency to assume that any and all education and training is good. Our intentions have been good, but our methods may have been mistaken. If we wish to maintain the ideal that it is possible for anyone in America to succeed, we need to pay attention to this kind of research.


Crossposted at Alexandria

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