The Super Mario Effect – Tricking Your Brain into Learning More | Mark Rober | TEDxPenn

Video Transcript

about a year ago I asked my YouTube
followers to play a simple computer
programming puzzle that I made with the
buddy the object of the puzzle was to
get your car across the maze by
arranging these code blocks that
represent typical computer programming
operations such as if-else statements
and while loops once you thought you had
a good code you would hit run and your
car would move based on the commands you
had in the program so I asked my YouTube
followers to play it because I said I
wanted to prove that anyone from any
background could learn to code fifty
thousand of them took the challenge and
attempted the puzzle but the truth was
that I didn’t actually care about
proving that anyone could learn to code
what they didn’t know is that we
actually randomly served up to slightly
different versions of the puzzle in one
version if you hit run and you weren’t
successful you didn’t lose any of your
starting 200 points we showed you this
message however in the other version if
you hit run and again you weren’t
successful we showed this slightly
different message stating that you lost
5 points from your starting 200 points
that was the only difference in one
version if you failed we simply took
away 5 no value in the real world no one
will ever see these completely
meaningless fake internet points that
minor difference is crucial to keep in
mind for the results I’m about to show
you from the 50000 data points we
collected for those who are penalized
for failed attempts their success rate
was around 52% for those who are not
penalized their success rate was 68%
that statistically significant Delta of
60% was really surprising and almost
seemed too hard to believe until we
looked at another piece of data that we
collected which was attempts to solve
before finding success it’s shown in
orange right here so those who didn’t
failing in a negative light nearly had
two and a half times more attempts to
<div class=”cue style-scope ytd-transcript-body-renderer active”>solve the puzzle as a result naturally
they saw more success and therefore
learned more so if you think about that
and sort of unpack these results the
trick to learning more and having more
success is finding the right way to
frame the learning process and this
observation seemed really profound to me
it may be wonder what if you just frame
the learning process in such a way that
you didn’t concern yourself with failure
how much more successful could you be
how much more could you learn and the
next thought was that if this is a real
effect clearly there must be some
evidence for this in real life and made
me think of toddlers my boy I helped
make that they are constantly trying new
things and they certainly aren’t
concerned with failure when my son
learned to walk he didn’t think about
how dumb he might look if he fell down
and as his parents we didn’t punish him
if he wasn’t successful either the focus
was always on the end goal and we
celebrated the successes with him as a
result of constantly failing and trying
and discovering new things during that
phases our life we discover so many more
new capabilities within ourselves and
it’s not even close to any other time in
our life but maybe using a toddler is
sort of cheating because their brains
are different than ours to make the case
that perhaps they aren’t that different
than us I’d like to tell you about a
plumber I first met when I was 8 years
old he was Italian
when Super Mario Brothers came out my
friends and I became obsessed like we
wanted to get to the castle and rescue
the beautiful Princess Peach from the
evil Bowser we get to school and ask
each other like dude what level did you
make it to did you pass the game we
never asked each other about details on
all the different ways we might have
died when it comes to games like this no
one ever picks up the controller for the
first time and then after jumping into a
pit thinks I’m so ashamed that was such
a failure and they never want to try
again right what really happens is they
think oh I’ve got to remember there’s a
pit right there so I think next time I’m
gonna come out with a little more speed
I’m gonna jump a little bit later the
focus in the obsession is about beating
the game now how dumb you might look if
you get hit by a sliding green shell and
as a direct result of that attitude of
learning from but not being focused on
the failures we got really good and we
learned a ton in a very short amount of
time we were the right side of this
graph this is what I call the Super
Mario effect focusing on the princess
and not the pits to stick with a task
and to learn more this caused me to
reflect and realize that there were lots
of other examples for my own personal
experience where this attitude of life
gamification this Super Mario effect led
to more success and therefore more
learning so I have a science YouTube
channel while I will sometimes use my
engineering skills to build things such
as the world’s largest Super Soaker or
the Guinness world record world’s
largest Erica
or maybe this snowball machine gun he’s
fashioned from a leaf blower
those are my nephew’s I think I figure
it out but what comes to me their uncle
they seem to have some trust issues
so these builds usually take me about
two to three months but there was one
that took me three years basically I
wanted to make a dart board where you
could get a bull’s-eye every time the
idea was that if you throw a dart we
could like track it through the air and
then we’d move the board sort of like
catch a bull’s-eye and so once we did
the math we realize that if we wanted to
track the dart for a typical like game
of darts typical velocity we would
basically have to both track the dart
and to move the board the same amount of
time it takes for a human to blink once
no big deal right so I’m not gonna bore
you with all the details and the
failures and the setbacks from a lot of
metaphorical sliding green shells and
those pesky hammerhead bros but
eventually we figured out it would take
something that looks like this which is
six stepper motors and motion
controllers a vikon motion capture
system with six cameras and just a ton
of tweaking and rewriting the code but
finally eventually we arrived here
what’s interesting is when I look back
on that process like I can honestly say
my attitude towards that was the same
attitude I had toward like rescuing the
princess from Bowser like of course each
failure and setback sucked
it’s stung but it was no different than
like falling in that pit on level eight
one and they’re like ah you got to go
back to the level and try again like it
was always like okay that sucked but
what did we learn from that like what
can we do next for it let’s hit it again
and this concept of life gamification is
more than just like have a positive
attitude right or never give up because
those sort of imply you’re having to
endure against your true desire to quit
I feel like when you frame a challenge
or a learning process in the way I’m
describing you actually want to do it
it feels natural to ignore the failures
and try again in the same way a toddler
will wants to get up and try and walk
or in the same way you want to keep
playing Super Mario Brothers or in the
same way the group on the right had a
desire to stick with that puzzle two and
a half times longer they weren’t getting
paid to do that nobody was forcing them
or watching them it was just them on
their computer alone in their house
their outlook made it so they wanted to
keep trying and learning and the icing
on the cake for the dartboard was I took
it on jimmy kimmel and challenged him to
a game of darts and I’ll just set this
clip up by saying two things the first
is we also had a mode on the board where
if your buddy had it and threw a dart
the board would move the other way and
the second is that we couldn’t get this
thing working during rehearsal and it
was just barely kind of creeping along I
get up to sand in the elevator which is
the door that moves up before you go
down out on stage I looked to the right
all six cameras had failed so my buddy
John is feverishly like restarting all
the cameras as I’m going out onto stage
knowing this and there’s like four
things and bits and I work up to the
dart board as the sort of grand finale
so just keep that in mind as this clip
starts like that’s where my head space
is three freaking years and it comes
down to this moment
what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna
give this dart to your buddy
okay you’re gonna challenge him just to
like hit the board just try to hit the
ball yeah okay all right
all right so then I just automatically
that’s right and you built this that’s
right yeah I step up here we go
fake it till you make it I will say in
all of our testing it literally we never
had a dead center bull’s eye as much as
that one right there and so like after
that I haven’t even touched the board
since I’m like I’m so done with it and I
really believe that if you reframe like
the challenges it can make all the
difference I have a simple thought
experiment to sort of showcase this
let’s say I gave you a test and it had
instructions on it that you would carry
out and to do that it had sort of
buttons like this and the instructions
would say something like push button
three for five seconds and then push
button six for one seconds
then push buttons three and five for
success and so on and unless you carried
out the instructions on page one exactly
you couldn’t see the other 32 pages of
the test how much would I have to pay
you to take that test for an hour now
suppose I changed the word test here to
game and I rotated this and for the
input device I shrunk the buttons and
moved them here and I gave it a cool
paint job and maybe different button
styles and then instead of using words I
represented the tasks you needed to
accomplish visually like this note the
output is the exact same you have to
push these buttons in a very specific
manner to move on to the next page or
level as it were now picture it’s 1986
how much would you pay me to take this
test just for an hour if you have a very
bad imagination here’s the hint to the
right answer I know I was there
has to be the greatest eating clip of
all time so as a science youtuber
sometimes I feel people have framed the
act of learning science in a negative
way it’s been taught poorly so it feels
scary to them
it feels something more like this and my
approach is to take the same physics
lessons you might have hated and to try
and sort of trick you into learning
something through something cool
basically to go from this to this so for
example in this video I made a hot tub
with liquefied sand and this is another
one of my nephews with unexplained trust
issues I explained in the video that
it’s a fluidized bed and then we talked
about the principle of buoyancy and how
it makes the whole thing work and I used
several examples like you know the blow
dryer with a ping-pong ball like this
I’d like to think my approach to science
is similar to Velociraptor hunting
patterns so I get people to come in with
something cool and amazing like the sand
hot tub and then when they least expect
it the analogy breaks down a little bit
right there at the end but by reframing
the learning process and focusing on the
cool end goal the fear of failures too
often taken off the table and learning
just comes more naturally I’ll close
with this thought someone came up with
this cartoon and I totally loved it this
is so true but often in life we tell
ourselves that the top version is what
we want that’s what we expect but then
something happens maybe it’s really bad
grade on a test or meeting with a client
that goes horribly wrong maybe it’s a
bad breakup maybe we miss a wide-open
shot some kind of green shell hits you
and so at that first setback or sign of
failure doubt creeps in we tell
ourselves we’re not good enough we’re
not smart enough and yet if the bottom
rectangle here is a game we’re not your
bikes crash and you have to get your
across to the flag it’s not oh I hit
these rocks I’m just gonna leave my bike
here I’m not good enough and you quit
and walk away you see that flag to the
right and you’re like nah like what did
I just learn like okay next time if you
kind of come out with more speed and I’m
gonna I’m gonna lift the front of my
bike up you want to try it again you’re
immediately excited to go for it again
we sort of tell ourselves we want our
life’s challenges to look like the top
one but that’s boring if that were a
real video game or a book or movie that
went out to the market it would be a
total failure nobody would buy it
where’s the risk in the reward where’s
the challenge there’s no feeling of
satisfaction the bottom picture is real
life and that’s not a bug that’s a
feature think about anything that means
anything to you in life whether it’s a
degree a relationship with a friend or
someone in your family maybe a
professional accomplishment I can
guarantee you it came from something
that looks like the bottom and not the
top failing and failing and failing and
eventually succeeding to the point that
it now holds value just like the most
meaningful high-fives of my adolescence
were those when I said dude I finally
beat Bowser last night I feel like a lot
of successes in my life have come down
to the SuperMario effect and while
framing challenges like this has worked
for me of course results may vary
everyone is going to be different and I
don’t know exactly what it looks like
for you to take this principle and map
it into your life but if we got these
very real results from a very different
cross-section of very unique people
clearly I’m not alone
there’s some universal principle at play
here by shifting your focus to the
princess and treating your life’s
challenges like video games you can
trick your brain and actually learn more
and see more success thank you
English (auto-generated)

Video Description

When 50,000 of Mark Rober’s 3 million YouTube subscribers participated in a basic coding challenge, the data all pointed to what Rober has dubbed the Super Mario Effect. The YouTube star and former NASA engineer describes how this data-backed mindset for life gamification has stuck with him along his journey, and how it impacts the ways he helps (or tricks) his viewers into learning science, engineering, and design. Mark Rober has made a career out of engineering, entertainment, and education. After completing degrees in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University and the University of Southern California, Rober joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2004. In his nine years as a NASA engineer, seven of which were on the Mars rover Curiosity team, Rober worked on both the Descent Stage (the jet pack that lowered the Rover to the surface) and some hardware on the Rover top deck for collecting samples. In 2011, Rober’s iPad-based Halloween costume helped launch both his creative costume company, Digital Dudz, and his YouTube channel, which now boasts 3 million subscribers and 400 million views. His videos focus on creative ideas and science- and engineering-based pranks and activities. Rober is a regular guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”. Today, he does research and development work for a large technology company in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and son. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Author: dhobson