There are different brain networks for cooperation and competition, and it's not surprising that some of us are more powerfully motivated by one approach than the other. Depending whether subjects were playing with or against another person, brain activation patterns differed.
We'll blog on competition in a future post, but cooperation as a motivating preference is worthwhile mentioning. Cooperation activates orbitofrontal pathways, an area of the brain important for reward, motivation, emotional processing, and even "maternal feelings" (here).
There are some people who really work best in cooperative learning environments - so parents or teachers should be aware that bad mismatches in school (e.g. highly competitive) could result in school avoidance, misbehavior, withdrawal, or serious underachievement.
Many research studies have also found that different ethnic or racial groups may differ widely in their preferences for cooperation vs. competition. In fact, a number or researchers have suggested that racial achievement gaps could be narrowed considerably for African-Americans and Latinos if more cooperative learning dominated instructional practice.
Check out some nice ideas, lesson plans, cooperative 'problems' for the classrooms below.
fMRI of Cooperation and Competition
Cooperative Learning:Tips on Implementation
Cooperative Problem Solving in Physics
Team Building & Problem Solving Exercises
Cooperative learning, academic achievement, and African American students
Cooperative Learning and Diversity
Cooperative Learning, Math, and Latino Students