How Brains Respond to Positive/Negative Feedback in Children and Teens

In children up to eight or nine years old, the dopamine-modulating reward center in the nucleus accumbens reacts strongly to positive feedback (activating the prefrontal cortex) and minimally to negative feedback. In older children, increased activation still occurs in the PFC when dopamine is released in response to positive feedback (particularly in response to correct answers/ predictions). However, the greatest age-related change is the higher reactivity of the NAc to negative feedback and the accompanying drop in dopamine, decrease in pleasure, and reduced input through the amygdala filter to the PFC. The NAc increases in reactivity through the teen years, then settles down into the adult pattern of less sudden, profound emotional shifts (Crone et al., 2006).

The high response to positive feedback in younger children is neurological because their brains need motivation to keep exploring and making sense of the world. In upper elementary school, things begin to change. Because the prefrontal cortex is more reactive to the drop in dopamine release by the NAc that occurs with mistake recognition, students from about 6th grade through high school are affected more by negative feedback and less by positive feedback. Mistakes become high-stress experiences, and the risk of making mistakes, especially in front of classmates, limits their opportunities to learn.


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 Learning to Love Math
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Willis, Judy (2010), Learning to Love Math, ASCD, Alexandria, VA, Retrieved on 2016-09-02
Folksonomies: education games math