Tricking Your Brain Into Learning Anything!

The Super-Mario Effect

Afroz Chakure
5 min readJun 20, 2022
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Our brain is the most important organ of our body and processes more than 6,000 thoughts per day. For most of us, learning anything new isn’t easy. We usually try something for some time and then quickly give up on it.

What if I told you that you could trick your brain into learning anything you ever wanted to learn, would you be interested?

I bet you would. This article is inspired by the famous Ted Talk by Youtuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober on the Super Mario Effect.

What is the Super Mario Effect?

We all might remember playing Super Mario Bros. on NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) during our childhood. The goal of the game was simply to rescue the beautiful Princess from the evil Bowser while avoiding the obstacles that come as part of the game.

Super Mario Bros NES

Although you might have fallen down the pits & got hit by the sliding green shell many times while playing the game, you never gave up on the game just because you lost one time.

You always tried one more time, then one more time and eventually you got better at completing different levels of the game & at saving the princess.

The focus and obsession were on beating the game, and not how dumb you might look if you get hit by a sliding green shell. And as a direct result of trying to learn from and not focusing on the failures, we got really good and we learned a ton in a very short amount of time.

The Super Mario Effect: Focus on the Princess and not the pits, to stick with a task and learn more.

Super Mario Effect talks about the attitude of life gamification where by taking everything as a game and focusing on the end result, the Super Mario effect led to more success and therefore more learning.

The Experiment

Mark Rober talked about his experiment in which people were given a challenge to complete. The goal of the challenge was to make a car reach the end position from the starting position using random blocks of code.

Here people were divided into two groups by giving them different versions of the game without them knowing about it.

Around 50 thousand people attempted the challenge.

In one version if you Hit Run and you weren’t successful, you didn’t lose any of your starting 200 points. However in the other version, if you Hit Run and you weren’t successful, 5 points were deducted from the initial 200 points

So, while one version of the game punished you for getting a wrong answer the other version didn’t. But what does this experiment tell us about how people learn?

Credits: TEDx (The coding game described)

Results from the experiment

For those who were penalized for failed attempts their success was around 52% and for those who were not penalized their success rate was 68%. That’s 16 percent more!

For those who were penalized their success rate was 52% while those who were not personalized had success rate of 68%

Attempts to solve before finding success

  • No penalty group — 12 tries || 68% success rate
  • 5 points group — 5 tries || 52 % success rate

He found that people who didn’t see failure in a negative light nearly had 2.5 times more attempts to solve the challenge. Since the second group tried to solve the problem a lot more times, naturally they saw more success and learned more.

Atempts to solve before finding success. No penalty group had 2.5 more attempts for the challenge.

The trick to learning more and having more success is finding the right way to frame the learning process.

What if you frame the learning process in such a way that you don’t concern yourself with failure, how much more successful you can be, rather how much more could you learn?

Why does the Super Mario Effect Work?

According to Mark Rober, when you frame a challenge or a learning process in a certain way, you actually want to do it. It feels natural to ignore the failures and try again.

In the same way, a toddler will want to get up and try to walk again after falling. In the same way, you want to play Super Mario Brothers even after failing or in the same way, the group on the right had a desire to stick with that puzzle 2.5x times longer.

The people in the experiment weren’t paid to try again, nobody was forcing them or watching them. It was just them on the computer alone in their house. Their outlook made them so they wanted to keep trying and learning.

If you could re-frame the challenges, it can make all the difference.

Think of challenges like a game and take failures as a learning process. The focus has to be on the end goal.


The speaker says that by re-framing the learning process and focusing on the cool end goal, the fear of failure is taken off the table, and learning comes more naturally.

Our life is about failing & failing and eventually succeeding to the point that it now holds value. You can apply Super Mario Effect to almost anything, be it Competitive exams, getting that 6 figure job, or learning a new skill.

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.