Gamification of Learning Deactivates the Default Mode Network

Paul A Howard-Jones, Tim M H Jay, Alice Mason, Harvey Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
479 Downloads (Pure)


We hypothesized that embedding educational learning in a game would improve learning outcomes, with increased engagement and recruitment of cognitive resources evidenced by increased activation of working memory network (WMN) and deactivation of default mode network (DMN) regions. In an fMRI study, we compared activity during periods of learning in three conditions that were increasingly game-like: Study-only (when periods of learning were followed by an exemplar question together with its correct answer), Self-quizzing (when periods of learning were followed by a multiple choice question in return for a fixed number of points) and Game-based (when, following each period of learning, participants competed with a peer to answer the question for escalating, uncertain rewards). DMN hubs deactivated as conditions became more game-like, alongside greater self-reported engagement and, in the Game-based condition, higher learning scores. These changes did not occur with any detectable increase in WMN activity. Additionally, ventral striatal activation was associated with responding to questions and receiving positive question feedback. Results support the significance of DMN deactivation for educational learning, and are aligned with recent evidence suggesting DMN and WMN activity may not always be anti-correlated.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1891
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2016

Structured keywords

  • CRICBristol


  • default mode network
  • Working Memory
  • reward


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