Monday, October 06, 2008

Children Learn from Praise, Adults Learn from Mistakes

Researchers from the Netherlands found that children younger than the age of 12 haven't developed brain pathways that would help them to learn well from mistakes.

Excerpt from the Science Daily article:

"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."

Exceptions certainly abound, as we assess many young children who are able to learn efficiently from their mistakes - but they are not the majority. The observations of this study are interesting, and could have significant implications for parents and teachers alike. Young children who transgress rules or struggle in school subjects are commonly scolded for a failure to learn from mistakes - but perhaps the problem may be in our developmentally-inappropriate expectations?

Science Daily: Children don't learn from mistakes until after 12
Learning from Positive and Negative Feedback fMRI pdf

2 comments:

  1. "Young children who transgress rules or struggle in school subjects are commonly scolded for a failure to learn from mistakes - but perhaps the problem may be in our developmentally-inappropriate expectations?"

    Or perhaps we need to reposition 'errors' as negative feedback. Children can learn fantastically well from errors when they are motivated to do so and get good feedback. Look at just about every video game kids play - they make errors and die thousands of times as they master often difficult tasks. No problems there. They love it; reflect on how and why the error occurred and have no problem discussing it with their peers. Similarly in sport. They take a shot in football and miss but that does not stop them trying again and again. If they learned only from positive feedback and not mistakes then they would never ride a bike or would be much use in evolutionary terms.

    Maybe getting a simple cross (what does that tell you?) and then a teacher barking at them or giving no further feedback is the problem. Look at the work of Michael Frese and others on error management methods.

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  2. Some nuance might be helpful here.

    The child's general expectations definitely influence attitude toward positive or negative feedback. Kids with a track record of success in games are particularly resilient when it comes to video game failures or deaths, but those who are inexperienced, may try a little, fail, and utterly give up games all together.

    Hopefully positive and negative feedback are not all-or-none. If a student has experience a great deal of failure in a task such as writing or reading, then positive feedback will be more rewarding and it usually helps for parents / teachers to be generous with their rewards - especially when esteem may be fragile.

    You do make a good point. Thanks for mentioning this. You are definitely right that detailed feedback is more valuable than right-wrong, pass-fail.

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