Children Find Joy in Learning New Words – Neuroscience News

Summary: Children and adolescents experience intrinsic joy in learning new words, a pleasure that persists up to adulthood. The research aimed to understand and measure the emotional responses of young learners during word acquisition, using a method where participants aged 10 to 18 deduced meanings from sentence contexts across 40 trials.

Not only did participants show significant retention of new vocabulary, but they also reported positive emotions such as happiness and excitement, underscoring the intrinsic rewards of language learning. The findings suggest that the motivational aspects of learning new words could be leveraged to enhance educational strategies and are also being explored in neurodivergent populations like children with dyslexia.

New research led by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, published in Developmental Science, suggests that children and adolescents remain excited by learning new words, all the way until adulthood.

The study, led by Professor Saloni Krishnan from the Department of Psychology, investigated how much children and adolescents enjoy learning the meaning of new words, as well as how well they retain them over time.

Recent research has demonstrated that adults experience a feeling of reward or “buzz” when they successfully learn new words which significantly enhances long-term memory retention of newly acquired words. This is linked to a dopaminergic circuit in the brain, which typically lights up for external rewards such as money.

The researchers in this study set out to apply these findings in children, to see if they feel the same way about learning and remembering new words.

The study involved 345 children between the ages of 10 to 18. The children were given 40 self-paced trials, which involved pairing two sentences to make sense of the new word they were learning.

Children were tasked with working out the meaning of a new word by making a prediction based on the sentence context. They were then asked to rate their emotions, including confidence, happiness, and excitement, after every question.

The research found that not only did the children and adolescents learn and retain the words, but they also found the experience of successfully learning to be enjoyable.

This is the first demonstration that language learning is intrinsically rewarding in children and provides clues to why we seek out and enjoy learning words (unlike our closest evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees).

Professor Saloni Krishnan, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said, “It was important to carry out this rigorous research to understand why children learn words.

“Our findings conclusively demonstrate children find such learning intrinsically rewarding—and don’t need external rewards like validation. I think the experience of enjoyment is an important signal to seek out new knowledge and build our vocabulary.

“This helps us identify the aspects of learning that children find rewarding, and in the future, could help us to design more engaging programs. For example, in my lab, we’re now assessing if neurodivergent children, such as children with dyslexia, experience reward in the same way.”

Author: Amrita BainsSource: Royal Holloway UniversityContact: Amrita Bains – Royal Holloway UniversityImage: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.“The role of intrinsic reward in adolescent word learning” by Amrita Bains et al. Developmental Science

Relatively little work has focused on why we are motivated to learn words. In adults, recent experiments have shown that intrinsic reward signals accompany successful word learning from context.

In addition, the experience of reward facilitated long-term memory for words. In adolescence, developmental changes are seen in reward and motivation systems as well as in reading and language systems.

Here, in the face of this developmental change, we ask whether adolescents experience reward from word learning, and how the reward and memory benefit seen in adults is modulated by age.

We used a naturalistic reading paradigm, which involved extracting novel word meanings from sentence context without the need for explicit feedback.

By exploring ratings of enjoyment during the learning phase, as well as recognition memory for words a day later, we assessed whether adolescents show the same reward and learning patterns as adults.

We tested 345 children between the ages of 10–18 (N > 84 in each 2-year age-band) using this paradigm. We found evidence for our first prediction: children aged 10–18 report greater enjoyment for successful word learning.

However, we did not find evidence for age-related change in this developmental period, or memory benefits.

This work gives us greater insight into the process of language acquisition and sets the stage for further investigations of intrinsic reward in typical and atypical development.

Neuroscience News Sitemap Neuroscience Graduate and Undergraduate Programs Free Neuroscience MOOCs About Contact Us Privacy Policy Submit Neuroscience News Subscribe for Emails

Neuroscience Research Psychology News Brain Cancer Research Alzheimer’s Disease Parkinson’s News Autism / ASD News Neurotechnology News Artificial Intelligence News Robotics News

Neuroscience News is an online science magazine offering free to read research articles about neuroscience, neurology, psychology, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, robotics, deep learning, neurosurgery, mental health and more.