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Power of Praise (3)

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

And one last awesome bitlet from Po Bronson’s praise article. Persistence is not only an act of will, but also “an unconscious response, governed by a circuit in the brain.” Dr. Robert Cloninger at Washington University in St. Louis actually found this brain circuit.

…[This circuit] monitors the reward center of the brain, and like a switch, it intervenes when there’s a lack of immediate reward. When it switches on, it’s telling the rest of the brain, “Don’t stop trying. There’s dopa [the brain’s chemical reward for success] on the horizon.”

…What makes some people wired to have an active circuit?…

“The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says Cloninger. The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

First, I wonder how these findings relates to researchers such as Edward Deci (author of Why We Do What We Do)’s work on intrinsic motivation and autonomy support. Despite the fact that dangling a “carrot” in front of someone is supposed to increase their motivation, Deci found that many, if not most, reward systems weaken intrinsic motivation instead of strengthening it. How does the “reward” of praise relate to his findings? If we reward students with praise less frequently, does that strengthen intrinsic motivation?

Related posts: Power of Praise (1)
Power of Praise (2)

Tagged In: > Topics: motivation, praise

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