Raspberries, Learning, and a Dose of Dopamine

by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification

We LOVE dopamine. The release of this neurochemical in our brains rewards us when we do things that are/should be good for us and/or the passage of our DNA to the next generation. We feel pleasure, for instance, when we see a raspberry because our brain knows that when we eat it, the glucose will give us energy (and it will taste good). Soon afterwards, though, the dopamine drops off, and we desire another berry to get that dopamine dose again. We will even walk back to the berry patch and fight with the stickers to get the next raspberry.

But what is even more interesting is that dopamine appears to be involved in learning and memory.

To exert some control over an uncertain life, dopamine rewards us when we discover information about our environment. After all, when we return to the berry patch next month, we’ll only see a tangle of stickers. Our ancestors needed to learn about seasons so that they would...

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Pushing Boundaries Through Play

Play, at least from an evolutionary psychological perspective, isn’t always smiles and unicorns. Watch any group of children playing, and you’ll see them push the boundaries. Boys will typically escalate “rough-and-tumble” play until someone expresses pain. And while girls stereotypically are less physically aggressive, their play often involves psychological components, such as, teasing, gossip, and exclusionary clique-formation. 

While adults typically intervene when boundaries get pushed during play, it’s important to understand that this is vital aspect of play. All mammals engage in this type of play, especially as juveniles. Watch two dogs playing, and the snarling and tugging will continue until one of them yelps. Similarly, a group of children will escalate rough-housing until someone says, “Hey, that hurt,” or a few tears are shed. 

Typically, the play pauses at this point. The hurt and hurter both learn something about...

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Four Types of Gamification for Learning

With a nod to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, it’s important to know WHY we are gamifying a program or process before we begin to actually gamify it. If I could anticipate what he would say (at least a few years ago) about the WHY of gamification, I believe Sinek would say our WHY will determine HOW we will gamify the learning program which will determine WHAT game elements and mechanics we will apply to our program. 

I’m sure the idea that there are four types of gamification didn’t originate in my brain, but I’ve given some thought to the below categories recently, and I’d like to begin a discussion and an awareness when we engage in the gamification of learning. Also, these types are not separate and distinctive; there are grey areas in between. So be kind and generous in your replies (and let me know whom I should be attributing to below categories to). 

  1. As a Cosmetic: Here you simply add game elements, visuals, and other design...
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