Gambling instinct could boost learning, says leading neuroscientist

Richard Vaughan

Tapping into students’ inner gamblers by adding an element of chance to lessons could significantly boost learning and help to close the attainment gap between rich and poor, a study is aiming to show.

Researchers will test whether the same physiological responses that attract people to gambling can be used to engage students in the classroom.

The project is part of a wider research programme to understand how neuroscience can improve education, and will try to evaluate Year 8 science students’ responses to games-based -rewards. Academics are currently recruiting 81 schools and 12,150 students to take part in the study, which will run until the end of 2017. 

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, reader in neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, who is leading the study, said research had already shown that offering uncertain rewards stimulated the brain. He is now keen to see if a similar approach can be used in education.

“It is thought we evolved that way because it encourages us towards tasks that are more uncertain,” Dr Howard-Jones said. “If we are totally confident of what is going to happen we are less interested, but if the odds are 50-50 then we tend to be more interested in taking part. It is something that has been exploited by casinos for years.”

Read the full article in the 16 January edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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