Tag Archives: learning

Some people learn from pain, others learn by avoiding it

[Photo by Tomas Fano via Flickr/Creative Commons]

Last August, a paper in Nature debuted with evidence supporting an idea that many suspected but few wanted to hear: If two teams of scientists run the same psychological experiment, the two sets of results end up mismatched.  (In fact,  when a network of 270 researchers retried 100 psych experiments, they found that only about 1 in 3 yielded results matching the original paper.)

Since consistent results are the hallmark of scientific truth,  this is a pretty big problem for the field. But, interestingly, many psychologists and neuroscientists have embraced the “Replication Crisis” as an opportunity to change their science for the better.

Others have doubled down on the methods that have always gotten them out of scientific credibility jams in the past— re-crunching numbers, critiquing the initial paper’s findings in dense journal articles, and reminding everyone just how hard scientists work.

I couldn’t help but think of the two drastically different responses to the “Replication Crisis” when I read a paper about learning and pain in last week’s Early Online edition of PNAS.  Researchers at University College London found that some people learned best by experiencing pain and remembering what-NOT-to-do in the future.

Others learned best when they managed to avoid pain in the first place; they simply kept repeating previously successful pain-preventing strategies.

The fMRIs of the study’s  19 “no-pain-no-gain” learners and 22 “playin-it-safe” learners detected slight differences in the shape of a brain structure called the striatum.

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