Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why we should peek at the back of the book now and again.

This article was on Fark the other day and it's got a link to the U of A as well (a non study affiliated commentator), so it's doubly blessed in my books... and here is my take. It talks about how our minds think in reverse when it comes to solving a problem (I know that I often find myself doing mazes backward, and was driven up the wall when I was forced to solve problems "front to back" in school rather than the seemingly random way that I think in my own head). From the article: How reverse replay leads to learning Scientists have long known that the release of the chemical molecule dopamine is an important part of the brain's reward system. The release of this neurotransmitter floods us with feelings of joy and motivates us to perform certain activities. When this knowledge is paired with the new suggestion that our brains may replay new experiences in reverse, a possible mechanism for learning emerges, Foster said. The researchers hypothesize the existence of a special "value area" of the brain where dopamine signals and reverse-replay signals are fed become paired together. If the dopamine signal is one that decays over time, meaning that it is stronger at the beginning of transmission than at the end, then the following might happen: As a reverse replay signal plays out in the brain's value area, it is associated with the beginning of a strong dopamine signal; as the replay continues, the dopamine signal becomes weaker. In this scenario, actions taken near the beginning of a reverse replay event will be more important to an organism than actions taken later. This suggests that if we know a reward is coming, that we may work harder to achieve the goal... but wait... isn't this already kinda obvious? Well yes and no - I would think - in a classroom we give kids a problem to solve, but what is the reward? Well they don't know if it's a grade or more homework, but if they know it's for marks, they will certainly work harder, if it's a "you'll see" - well you don't get much of anything. For those trying to get people to adopt technology, this may be why showing off some of the end results is often more effective when starting someone on a new system. If they are hooked on what they think they can achieve, it may be that hope of achieving that keeps them going (the proverbial carrot). I think it's also something that games take and use often as well (and not only those that you are thinking about... ). So many games show what will happen if the current actions of "opponent X" keep going, and you as the gamer have to stop them. Of course, this is on the grander scale, but in the actual mechanics of game play there may be dozens more of these examples... you know that a certain button combination will pull off a really cool move, so you think about the move - take your natural dopamine hit, do the actions and then get hit again... Of course this may all be bunk, but it does provide some interesting explanations for how some people may be motivated to do things when it comes to school and learning. Technorati Tags: