In a first of its kind study, researchers from the Department
of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University has come out with
the nuerocognitive mechanisms that correlates the positive attitude of a
student towards the subject of learning and the corresponding academic
achievement in that discipline. Using a large behavioral sample of 240
children, they found that positive attitude toward math uniquely predicted math
achievement, even after they accounted for multiple other cognitive-affective
“Attitude is really important,” said Lang Chen, PhD, the study’s lead author. “Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ.”
“It was really surprising to see that the link works through a very classical learning and memory system in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Vinod Menon.
Earlier studies have revealed that the brain’s reward centers might drive the link between attitude and achievement. In another words, children with better attitudes were better at math, just because they found it more rewarding or motivating. “Instead, we saw that if you have a strong interest and self-perceived ability in math, it results in enhanced memory and more efficient engagement of the brain’s problem-solving capacities,” Menon said.
The researchers made detailed investigation on the neural mechanisms underlying the link between positive attitude and academic achievement in two independent groups of children, first group on how it leads to better discovery and second group on how it leads to better replication. They tested validity of different competing hypotheses regarding the differential roles of affective-motivational and learning-memory systems.
From the brain-imaging results on both the groups, it is found that positive attitude was associated with increased engagement of the hippocampal learning-memory system. Activity in the brain’s reward centers, including the amygdala and the ventral striatum, was found not linked to a positive attitude toward math. Statistical modeling of the brain imaging results suggested that the hippocampus mediates the link between positive attitude and efficient retrieval of facts from memory, which in turn is associated with better problem solving abilities.
Researchers claim that their results are the first of its kind that elucidates the neurocognitive mechanisms by which positive attitude influences learning and academic achievement.