PERSISTENCE AFTER FAILURE: UNDERSTANDING NEURAL AND BEHAVIORAL RESPONSES TO NEGATIVE OUTCOMES

Project Details

Description

Progress rarely comes without the experience of a failure along the way, but some failures can undermine progress entirely. Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields face a difficult choice when they encounter an academic failure: persist or give up. In the best case, a student will persist after interpreting a failed test as feedback to change studying habits. In the worst case, a student may give up after interpreting a failed test as a reason to switch to a less challenging major. Institutions can improve the participation and success of underrepresented groups in STEM by better understanding the factors that determine a student''s response to failure and the interventions that may promote academic persistence rather than giving up. Negative outcomes, such as failed tests, can change behavior in two distinct manners that have disparate consequences for a student. In one manner, a student persists when a failed test spurs behavioral change to better pursue an original learning goal. In another manner, a student gives up when a failed test spurs a change in the learning goal itself (e.g., switch to a non-STEM field or drop out). Intellectual Merit: Research on the neural basis of incentive processing provides a foundation for understanding how the brain responds to negative outcomes and how those responses may be linked to behavioral changes. However, research has yet to address how the brain processes negative outcomes in ways that lead to different manners of behavior change: persistence versus giving up. The current research builds from the foundations of incentive processing research to understand how the brain responds to failure in ways that lead to persistence versus giving up. This research then examines how certain aspects of learning environments may alter a student?s response to failure. In particular, does stress harmfully influence neural and behavioral responses to failure? This proposal addresses two specific aims towards understanding neural responses to failure and their relation to decisions to persist or give up on a goal. The first aim understands the neural responses that underlie two distinct roles that negative outcomes can play in learning. The current research examines neural responses to negative outcomes that lead to (a) change in behavior to reach an original goal (persistence), or (b) change in choice of the goal (giving up). This research forms the foundation for understanding neural responses to failure that promote persistence versus giving up. The second aim understands the impact of stress on responses to failure. Specifically, the research examines how acute stress may influence decisions to persist or give up on a goal by altering neural responses to failure. More specifically, the proposed aims set up future examinations of how different cognitive interpretations of failure can beneficially influence neural responses and decisions to persist with a goal. This project''s research takes a novel approach to understand how people change their behavior in response to failure. In particular, this research examines two distinct manners in which negative outcomes can change behavior to (a) promote persistence or (b) give up on a goal. These different roles of negative outcomes in learning can be the difference between graduation and dropping out in an academic learning context. Furthermore, the research promises insight into relationships between acute stress, neural responses, and the decisions students make after failure. The research program lays a foundation to translate neuroscience research on incentive processing into a model of academic persistence that includes a more complete understanding of conditions that may impair or promote academic success. Broader Impacts:This project bridges a gap between research on the mechanisms of basic learning and research on factors contributing to academic diversity and the success of underrepresented students. This research promotes teaching, training, and learning by providing a better understanding of academic feedback and the ways that it can influence student behaviors and eventual success. The research program contributes to broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM by examining the influence of acute stress on responses to failure. This research examines a specific biological mechanism by which stress may impair the likelihood of achieving academic goals and sets up future examinations of cognitive interventions targeted to ameliorate undesirable effects of stress. The increased understanding of relationships between acute stress, neural responses, and decisions after failure helps to refine the strategies that educational institutions can implement to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/15

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))

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