The neuroscience behind positive feedback

Neuroscience people respond more favourably to positive
Neuroscience suggests that people respond more favourably to positive feedback than negative threats

Regular performance feedback is essential for the personal and professional development of all employees, from the interns right through to the senior managers. However, if you thought that positive and negative feedback are just as effective in getting results, think again.

While debate has long raged over whether reward or punishment is the preferred tool for eliciting motivation and behavioural change, the tide seems to be turning in favour of the former. More researchers are taking the neuroscience route in exploring this issue, and the overwhelming evidence suggests that the human brain is physically built to be more receptive to rewards than threats.

Dutch neuroscientist Dr Eveline Crone, for instance, conducted a famous study that observed how adolescents reacted to reward and punishment. In her experiment, subjects were required to complete a series of computer tasks – receiving a tick to indicate good performance and a cross to notify them where they went wrong.

So what were the results? Repeated runs of the experiment revealed that performance improved markedly when the feedback was positive, with their brains displaying a strong reaction to this sort of stimulus. On the other hand, the children showed little reaction to the negative feedback.

This is backed up by years of research that suggest that the specific region of the brain responsible for processing feedback – the basal ganglia – is more open and receptive to positive feedback, with a larger area dedicated to receiving this type of stimulus.

These findings add weight to the argument that, simply put, the human brain is physically wired to better take in positive than negative feedback. This can be applied to just about any area of life, including the performance feedback and improvement of your organisation’s leaders and managers.

Leaderskill’s 360 degree feedback surveys are one form of feedback that take this philosophy to heart, focusing on development rather than criticism to boost performance. These surveys aren’t about putting numbers on people and highlighting their flaws – instead, constructive next steps are provided to guide participants on what they can do more and less of to be more effective.

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