The following, from Eric Jensen's BrighterBrain® Bulletin
, October '09 came to me courtesy of Francoise Nicoloff, President of IARCTC. Suzie Andrews commented: "There are some good practical suggestions for people to ramp up dopamine by physical activity". So, I think it's worth sharing on our blog. Thanks Francoise! "Let's Get Our Kids Motivated!"
What Does Recent Brain Research Say About Motivation and Rewards?
At one school I was working at a few weeks ago, the principal asked me to "throw in" to my presentation some things about motivation. She wanted to get the staff all ready for the new school year with some "motivational strategies." I smiled and said I would do the best I could.
On one hand, that's the easiest thing for me. I can do that in my sleep (almost). I gave the staff some fabulous motivational strategies they could use right away. They included 1) how to ramp up engagement 2) how to increase "buy-in" and 3) how to raise hope over the long haul.
But in another sense, it's good to understand things from a neurobiology standpoint. Some things are "wired up" (it's in our DNA) and other things we need to learn (as a skill set). When it comes to motivation, we don't need to learn to "pay attention to" and "focus on" anything that is perceived as "behaviorally relevant." We are already going to do that anyways. We already pay attention to that which is contrasting, moving, and/or emotional.
Translated, in school, that means kids pay attention to distractions, other kids they're interested in (good or bad) and changes in the routine. Bodily sounds, kids walking by, whispering, and all the usual classroom distracters. But is it possible to get kids on board for the long haul?
Two recent neuroscience studies shed light on this issue and showed the differences between "easy" and "difficult" motivation.
First, motivation is "messy" from a scientific standpoint. I found almost 600 peer-reviewed studies that focused on reward pathways in the brain that support "motivation." Why so many? There are many ways to measure motivation and most of them are not very applicable to school. Let's focus on a couple that do focus on school-type motivation issues.
Pioneering neuroscientist Nora Volkow found that those identified as AD/HD have a key brain difference (vs. typical learners). In the dopamine reward pathway of participants with AD/HD, there's a reduction in dopamine synaptic markers associated with symptoms of inattention. In short, less dopamine (the "reward" neurotransmitter) is being experienced by the AD/HD kids. Translated, those kids will seek novelty, risky behaviors and foods that ramp up the brain (sugars and energy drinks). It's all self-medication.
Another study (Jan Engelmann and colleagues) used a wider base of students and found that exogenous motivation (the participants got paid) improves behavioral performance in a demanding (non relevant) attention task in brain sites which have been previously used for attentional processing. However, the effect of the "bribe" was not additive to other effects. This effect worked on irrelevant tasks.
"What???" Let me explain those studies in plain English. The first study suggests that AD/HD kids will function better with increased dopamine in their brain... they're short on it! That's why they self-medicate so often with risk, danger, pleasure and energy drinks. The second study suggests that motivational tools have a larger effect on reorienting (getting focus back on a boring task) than on initial orienting tasks.
Ultimately, long-term motivation is a learned skill. While some kids have fewer dopamine receptors and they show AD/HD symptoms, ultimately, the brain still needs to learn to suppress mostly irrelevant information (like distracters). How do you do that? Keep reading. REFERENCES
Volkow ND, Wang GJ, Kollins SH, Wigal TL, Newcorn JH, Telang F, Fowler JS, Zhu W, Logan J, Ma Y, Pradhan K, Wong C, Swanson JM. (2009) Evaluating dopamine reward pathway in ADHD: clinical implications. JAMA. Sep 9;302(10):1084-91.
Assadi SM, Yücel M, Pantelis C. (2009) Dopamine modulates neural networks involved in effort-based decision-making. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. Mar;33(3):383-93.
Engelmann JB, Damaraju E, Padmala S, Pessoa L. (2009) Combined effects of attention and motivation on visual task performance: transient and sustained motivational effects. Frontiers Human Neuroscience;3:4. PART TWO: Applications
Again, here's a familiar theme: emotions and affect matter. Success in school is far more than cognitive; it's emotional, too. Good feelings in the classroom will enhance dopamine production and that boosts attention and motivation.
What is it that you can do that is behavioral, that actually bumps up dopamine? First, repetitive gross motor activities will do it (i.e. relays, marching, power walking, etc.). Get the movement in your classroom going! Second, succeeding at a challenging task will raise the dopamine (success plus celebration). Third, camaraderie, and team spirit building can help do it. Use social affiliation to boost rewards. Finally, just the anticipation of pleasure can do it. Hook them in with a genuine promise of something good coming up soon! Why do all this?
An earlier newsletter showed you that higher dopamine levels support better working memory. Now, they support enhanced and extended motivation in tasks that kids would otherwise be less likely to stay focused on. Processes like arts, physical education and project learning ALL support the development of long-term motivation, too. Let's cut to the chase: everything you do in your classroom is likely to have SOME effect on the brain. Brain-based education says, "Be purposeful about it." Now, go have some fun!
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