In a previous blog, I reported a research study conducted at USC Marshall School of Business as reported in the Los Angeles Times on July 10, 2011. The more I speak to educators, parents, and mental health practitioners across North America, the more I realize that this “chocolate cake study” could be the single most important study of our time. It perfectly simplifies our focus, no matter what our vocation, and soundly illustrates why these two following tips need to be our focus:


  1. Eliminate guilt, shame, and humiliation as a means of teaching children (and adults) to make a change, behavioral or otherwise. This approach actually makes it far less likely that a positive change will occur.
  2. Instead, focus on helping the child (or adult) to remember when he or she was able to make a better choice. As they recall a time they did better, children (and adults) will begin to feel the good feelings that come from remembering when they had greater self-control, for example. When we help them to notice their good feelings, they begin to feel their healthy power again, a physiological surge of neurochemicals that lead to the capacity to make a better choice next time.


Our current approaches in education send Kindergartners home with sad faces on their imperfect spelling tests. We have children pull a card, move a clip, or lose a point they have already earned because we logically think that if children feel bad enough about what they’ve done, surely they will never do it again. However, the opposite of that logic occurs because neurobiology is more powerful than psychology. When children feel sufficiently bad, they act out in order to NOT feel so bad (like the group in the study that ate the most chocolate cake). Sitting in the bad feelings that come from shame approaches depletes us all of the essential “biological soup” that gives us the power to make positive change. This is a paradigm shift, I know, but when we finally make it, our new approaches will get us the results we need to see in education, parenting, therapy, and beyond. There are seconds-long ways to shift our neurobiology to support the changes we want to make, in ourselves and in our children. Learn more about them from my blogs, books, articles, and Brain Charge: The K-12 Curriculum bridging the gap between what science knows and what education does ( Join the movement! It’s happening now!