TEENS DO IT FOR BRIBES

CityPress - - Front Page - AVAN­TIKA SEETH avan­tika.seeth@city­press.co.za

Re­searchers from a top Bri­tish univer­sity have dis­cov­ered that if you want to get the best out of a young per­son, you may need to bribe them. Sci­en­tists from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don have found that, un­like teenagers, adult brains are able to weigh up re­wards and pun­ish­ments equally and use this in­for­ma­tion to make de­ci­sions.

But for young­sters aged be­tween 12 and 17, re­wards are seen as a big­ger mo­ti­va­tor.

The study, ti­tled The Com­pu­ta­tional De­vel­op­ment of Re­in­force­ment Learn­ing dur­ing Ado­les­cence, was pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS Com­pu­ta­tional Bi­ol­ogy and com­pared how adults and teens made de­ci­sions based on avail­able in­for­ma­tion.

Re­searchers stud­ied 18 chil­dren aged be­tween 12 and 17, and 20 adults aged be­tween 18 and 32. They were given tasks to com­plete in which they had to choose ab­stract sym­bols, which were then associated with a re­ward, pu­n­ish­ment or no out­come.

As the par­tic­i­pants pro­gressed, they learnt which sym­bols were likely to lead to each out­come and ad­justed their choices ac­cord­ingly.

Re­searchers found that while both adults and teens were good at learn­ing to choose the re­ward­ing sym­bols, the ado­les­cents were less good at avoid­ing those associated with pu­n­ish­ment.

And when adults were told how an­other choice of sym­bol would have changed things, they per­formed bet­ter. Teenagers, though, did not take this in­for­ma­tion into ac­count. So how does this in­for­ma­tion help par­ents? Ba­si­cally, teenagers make choices based on what’s in it for them. And they would be more likely to wash the dish es, for ex­am­ple, if there was a re­ward in­volved.

Par­ent­ing ex­pert Nikki Bush says it should come as no sur­prise that most of to­day’s teens ex­pect re­wards.

“Re­ward works for this gen­er­a­tion purely be­cause they’ve been brought up in a re­ward-based cul­ture. As chil­dren, par­ents and teach­ers used star charts to mo­ti­vate them, so they’ve al­ways been used to re­wards-based sys­tems for do­ing things prop­erly,” she said.

Bush says teens are now look­ing for re­wards for do­ing mun­dane things, and cau­tioned par­ents against over-re­ward­ing them.

“We have to be care­ful of not over­do­ing the star charts and not over-re­ward­ing the chil­dren for very nor­mal be­hav­iour. If chil­dren don’t ex­pe­ri­ence the con­se­quences of their ac­tions, then they don’t ex­pe­ri­ence cause and ef­fect,” she says.

“We have par­ents hov­er­ing over and pro­tect­ing their chil­dren from the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of their ac­tions and if they don’t ex­pe­ri­ence it for them­selves, it has no mean­ing.”

Re­fer­ring to the study, Bush said par­ents needed to be cau­tious be­cause it skewed the con­cept of re­al­ity for the child.

“Chil­dren who are brought up in this man­ner are often seek­ing con­stant ap­proval and we see it in the work­place with mil­len­ni­als. We find that a lot of en­try-level mil­len­ni­als in the work­place can­not func­tion in­de­pen­dently with­out con­stant guid­ance.

“This then ham­pers their abil­ity to be­come in­de­pen­dent and fully func­tional. It’s all about bal­ance, re­ally.

“To raise a child in to­day’s world, we have to teach them the good and the bad. Yes, a re­ward sys­tem is ben­e­fi­cial. But they shouldn’t be re­warded for mun­dane things,” says Bush.

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