September 25, 2008
8 Year Olds Learn Little From Negative Feedback

By age of 12 children show adult patterns of brain response to negative feedback.

Eight-year-old children have a radically different learning strategy from twelve-year-olds and adults. Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback ('Well done!'), whereas negative feedback ('Got it wrong this time') scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring. Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Adults do the same, but more efficiently.

The switch in learning strategy has been demonstrated in behavioural research, which shows that eight-year-olds respond disproportionately inaccurately to negative feedback. But the switch can also be seen in the brain, as developmental psychologist Dr Eveline Crone and her colleagues from the Leiden Brain and Cognition Lab discovered using fMRI research. The difference can be observed particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive control. These areas are located in the cerebral cortex.

In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback. But in children of 12 and 13, and also in adults, the opposite is the case. Their 'control centres' in the brain are more strongly activated by negative feedback and much less by positive feedback.

What I wonder: Do some people fail to make the transition toward reacting more to negative feedback? Are some adults neurologically not wired up to learn from negative feedback? Likely the extent of the shift differs from person to person as they grow up and the timing of the shift differs as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 September 25 11:20 PM  Brain Development

Half Sigma said at September 27, 2008 3:59 PM:

That's interesting. I'm sure it's related to young children being dependent on their parents, and thus fearless in their approach to many things. Fearlessness is not a luxury available to adults.

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