The researchers first screened participants of comparable academic ability, categorizing them as interested in achievement or interested in fun. They then had the students look at a computer screen that flashed words related to high achievement (for instance, “win,” “excel” and “master”). In subsequent tests of ability such as a word-search puzzle, the participants who were interested in achievement performed significantly better than did those who were not.
That experiment confirmed conven tional assumptions, but the next one had a confounding outcome. Participants were again primed with high-achievement words and asked to complete a word-search puzzle. But instead of describing the task as a serious test of verbal pro ficiency as before, the researchers called it “fun.” The results of that simple seman tic change were profound: not only did the supposed slackers perform better on the task this time around, their scores actually surpassed those of the high-achievement crowd.
I read a similar study years ago that I’ve never been able to find. Researchers in that study found that different groups did better on tests that were called “work” and called “games.” Some people did better at “work” than “games,” other did better at “games” than “work.”
Photo by Sarah Le Clerc
See also: Brain network links cognition, motivation (Also via Kyle)