A neuroscience professor at the University of Bristol (England) has changed up his teaching methods to align with research showing that the brain gets bored with regular rewards. There are only so many gold stars, realistically or metaphorically, you can hand out.

To get past the “ho-hum,” Dr. Paul Howard-Jones mixes up reward schedules and adds elements of randomness in his classes.

For example, correct answers or completed tasks in his classes don’t earn a reward; they only earn a chance at a reward.

Also, students who earn points on a quiz or activity can risk them on subsequent multiple-choice questions – either doubling their points or losing them all.

The prof concludes that this risk-or-reward scenario helps hold students’ interest – presumably because it generates brain chemicals such as dopamine that are involved in gambling.

He also found that students tended to credit success to their own abilities, but failure to bad luck. That motivates them to keep going.

Adapted from “Open your mind to the teachings of neuroscience,” March 2012, TES magazine.

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