Researchers at the University of Bristol, led by Professor Paul Howard-Jones, asked university students to study notes on a diverse range of subjects while having their brain scanned. During their efforts to study, activation could be observed building up in a network of the brain called the “default mode network” – which is a network associated with mind-wandering and day-dreaming. In short, their brain activity suggested they were struggling to stay focused.
The researchers punctuated their study sessions with little tasks about what they were studying, including ones designed to stimulate the brain’s reward system. These turned their study sessions into a game – resembling the game-based condition being trialled in the Sci-napse project. So for instance, when they answered a question correctly, they could game their points on a wheel of fortune.
As their studying became more like a game, researchers could see this “mind wandering” network decrease its activity and the students achieved correspondingly higher scores when they were later tested on their understanding of their notes.
Professor Howard-Jones commented: “This study is encouraging for the types of neuroscience-informed approaches to education being trialled in the Sci-napse Project. It’s really exciting to be able to see how our new understanding about reward can produce better learning, and to actually be able to observe these effects in the brain”
A full report on the brain study is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology” which is available here.