Assignment 4, Part A: Individual Explanation of Rewards and Emotions
For EME 6646: Learning, Instructional Design, and Cognitive Neuroscience
By Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida
June 8, 2017
Using a task where participants passively viewed morally charged pictures (e.g., starving children and warfighting), Moll et al. (2002) found that while such images activated the amygdala, thalamus, and upper midbrain just like basic emotions, images evoking “moral emotions” additionally activated the orbital and medial regions of the prefrontal cortex, as well as the superior temporal sulcus region, both of which were previously known to be important for perception and social behavior. Moll et al. (2002) argue that these functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) results indicate that humans automatically assign moral values to social events, and that this is an important function of human social behavior.
While traditionally, the prevailing paradigm was that moral judgments are guided by reason, neuroimaging evidence has shown us that emotion plays a vital role. For example, Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley, and Cohen (2001) tackled the issue by presenting fMRI-connected participants with a battery of moral dilemmas, with moral–personal (e.g., pushing a bystander off a bridge to stop a trolley that would kill five people), moral–impersonal (e.g., voting in favor of a referendum that would result in many deaths), and non-moral conditions (e.g., whether to stack coupons at the grocery store). Moral–personal dilemmas activated brain regions (i.e., medial frontal gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus, and angular gyrus) that were significantly less active in the other conditions. Moreover, reaction time was higher in instances where a participant responded an action was “morally appropriate” (it was a dichotomous choice between this and “morally inappropriate”) when this was emotionally incongruent—for example, when participants said “appropriate” to sending the bystander to his or her death to stop the trolley from killing five people. The authors specifically compared this to the Stroop test, contending that this was a similar phenomenon in that it required extra processing time. Overall, emotions can help us understand why the majority will say it is acceptable to flip a switch that changes the direction of the trolley, killing a bystander to save five others, while a majority will say it is unacceptable to push the bystander in front of the trolley to stop it, even though the outcome is the same. Greene et al. (2001) say the latter is more emotionally salient. While the trolley problem is a philosophical paradox if considering only reason, adding emotion resolves it.
If moral dilemmas light up different parts of the brain, and if emotional salience is important to judging whether an issue is morally unacceptable, educators can use this to design instruction to engage moral emotions. For instance, the music industry has long argued that illegally downloading a song is no different than shoplifting the CD from Target. The former might be compared with flipping the trolley switch, while the latter is like pushing the bystander in front of the trolley—far fewer would shoplift than illegally download a song. Casting academic integrity in a similar light could help promote ethical and prosocial behaviors among students. Marketing research implies that most people are honest to a fault—they would not be grossly dishonest to get ahead, but if they can profit while continuing to believe they are righteous, they will do so (Mazar, Amir, & Ariely, 2008). In addition to promoting academic honesty, moral emotions can be evoked in instruction through vignettes, case studies, or interrogatories (e.g., “What would you do if you could save five people by harvesting the organs of a cerebrally dead 22-year-old who is an organ donor but whose family actively protests?”). Integrating these as both individual and group activities may be useful. Group activities invite going along with the group, so individually completion might precede group discussion. Sadly, while Walt Disney Studios appeals to our moral emotions and emotions of all forms in their motion pictures, instructors typically leave this engagement opportunity untapped.
Self-Regulation of BOLD Signals and Monetary Rewards
Recently, Sepulveda et al. (2016) combined measurement via real-time FMRI neurofeedback (NF) with instructing participants to increase their blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signals (i.e., self-regulation of brain physiology), in a between-groups study with four groups (n = 20 with five per group) which received either NF only (a.k.a. contingent feedback), NF and motor-imagery training, NF and monetary reward, and NF + motor-imagery training + monetary reward. The BOLD signal is a proxy for “volitional control of supplementary motor area” (Sepulveda et al., 2016, p. 3155)—this ability can improve “planning and execution of motor activity” (p. 3155), and may be important to self-regulation, learning, academic success, et cetera. Interestingly, while all groups were successful at up-regulating their BOLD signals, monetary reward resulted in the greatest increase, while motor-imagery training did not even result in a statistically significant enhancement. That is to say, the participants who were evidently the most motivated to increase their BOLD signals were the ones who received NF and an on-screen dollar amount where the amount increased in proportion to their real-time increase in BOLD signal. While the authors were careful to note that monetary rewards—which are by definition an extrinsic motivator—lose their effectiveness over time and thus should be used as an initial motivator that is withdrawn over time (hopefully giving way to intrinsic motivation), their discussion does not mention that this neuroimaging evidence may be important to the use of monetary rewards for academic and organizational success.
Monetary Rewards May Be Ineffective in Academic Settings
In contrast to Sepulveda et al. (2016), Mizuno et al. (2008) found that while learning motivated by monetary rewards activated the putamen bilaterally much like self-reported level of motivation learning, the intensity of activity (measured via fMRI BOLD signals) increased with higher levels of motivation for learning, but not with increased monetary rewards. This may suggest that, at least in an academic context, greater monetary rewards do not increase motivation. While it did not employ neuroimaging, a study of 300 middle schoolers by Springer, Rosenquist, and Swain (2015) may be relevant. They offered either no incentive, $100, or a “certificate of recognition signed by the district superintendent” (p. 453) to students who attended tutoring regularly. While the preceding fMRI research may lead us to believe that the monetary incentive would have been effective, in fact it had no significant differences from the control group, while the certificate of recognition was a highly effective motivator. Therefore, for academic motivation, financial rewards may be inferior to other forms of extrinsic motivation (e.g., a certificate), or to intrinsic motivation. Nevertheless, they may be a useful tool for the unimaginative instructor, particularly in contexts where a grading scheme cannot be implemented (e.g., some forms of organizational training). For a more typical academic setting, grades and “extra” credit opportunities (which, ironically, are available even to students who achieve far less than 100% on their work) may basically take the place of what would have been monetary rewards in another setting.
Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293, 2105–2108. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062872
Mazar, N., Amir, O., & Ariely, D. (2008). The dishonesty of honest people: A theory of self-concept maintenance. Journal of Marketing Research, 45, 633–644. http://doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.45.6.633
Mizuno, K., Tanaka, M., Ishii, A., Tanabe, H. C., Onoe, H., Sadato, N., & Watanabe, Y. (2008). The neural basis of academic achievement motivation. NeuroImage, 42, 369–378. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.04.253
Moll, J., de Oliveira-Souza, R., Eslinger, P. J., Bramati, I. E., Mourão-Miranda, J., Andreiuolo, P. A., & Pessoa, L. (2002). The neural correlates of moral sensitivity: A functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of basic and moral emotions. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 2730–2736. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2016.07.007
Sepulveda, P., Sitaram, R., Rana, M., Montalba, C., Tejos, C., & Ruiz, S. (2016). How feedback, motor imagery, and reward influence brain self-regulation using real-time fMRI. Human Brain Mapping, 37, 3153–3171. http://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23228
Springer, M. G., Rosenquist, B. A., & Swain, W. A. (2015). Monetary and nonmonetary student incentives for tutoring services: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 8, 453–474. http://doi.org/10.1080/19345747.2015.1017679