Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have used direct recordings of neuronal activity in the human brain to demonstrate that specific neurons fire more frequently in response to unexpected rewards over unexpected losses. No differences were observed in the study between expected rewards and losses.
In a report published in the journal Science, the researchers described how they used a computer based card game and micro-electrodes measuring neuronal impulses during deep brain stimulation surgery to confirm their hypothesis that lucky wins are remembered better than expected wins, or unexpected or expected losses.
So, our brains are primed to learn when surprised. It seems like it should be common sense that variety and the unexpected should naturally engage the human mind, much more so than the expected and routine. It’s interesting to see evidence of how this is ingrained in our brains. Unfortunately, the rigid structure of the contemporary bureaucratic educational system, and the necessity of routine imposed by large classroom sizes naturally stifles the creativity necessary to take advantage of this study’s conclusion. In our current system it is far too easy to impose learning rather than to entice learning.