Predicting the Future Primes Your Brain for Learning

Every time that you make a prediction you get a little bomb of dopamine in the reward pathways of your brain. That dopamine helps you pay closer attention, to process information more effectively, and to be more engaged with what’s going.

Jane McGonigal: If you need a little extra energy or you need to pay really close attention to something today, here’s what you should do. You should make a prediction about anything. It can be a prediction of how many emails you’ll get in the next hour. It could be a prediction about who’s going to win the baseball game tonight. It could be a prediction of how many jumping jacks can you do in 60 seconds. Make a prediction and then just wait to see if you’re right or not. Every time that you make a prediction, you get a little bomb of dopamine in the reward pathways of your brain. And the reason why you get a little dopamine bomb is that your brain is preparing itself to learn. So we often think of dopamine as the reward neurochemical — when there’s something we really want like a cookie or a pat on the back, we get this dopamine hit in anticipation of it. So we think about it as being really related to pleasure and fun and satisfaction. But the reason why dopamine feels good is that the brain is actually trying to trick us into learning or improving our strategies for being successful or getting what we want.

So dopamine is going to prime your brain to pay closer attention, to process information more effectively, to be more engaged with what’s going on and so just make a little prediction about anything. You’ll get the dopamine hit; your brain will go into high gear; and you could really use this in very strategic ways. For example, if you’re giving a presentation, ask your audience at the beginning of your presentation to make a prediction. It could be about your presentation. It could be about something in their lives. You’ve given them a dopamine hit; now they’re paying attention. They’re going to actually learn more from what you’re about to say. So make a prediction. It’s a really easy way to get the benefits and the learning benefits specifically of a dopamine bomb. You’ll also just feel happier, which is good too.

Every time that you make a prediction, says author and video game designer Jane McGonigal, you get a little bomb of dopamine in the reward pathways of your brain. That dopamine helps you pay closer attention, to process information more effectively, and to be more engaged with what’s going. So if you want to boost your ability to learn or get those you're teaching primed for learning, encourage prediction-making. It's a simple little mind hack to get your brain running on all cylinders.

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

We are heading for a New Cretaceous, not for a new normal

The climate change we're witnessing is more dramatic than we might think.

Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA
Surprising Science

A lazy buzz phrase – 'Is this the new normal?' – has been doing the rounds as extreme climate events have been piling up over the past year. To which the riposte should be: it's worse than that – we're on the road to even more frequent, more extreme events than we saw this year.

Keep reading Show less

New study reveals what time we burn the most calories

Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.

Photo: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
  • While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
  • Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
Keep reading Show less