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article imageStudy: Why some people don't learn from mistakes

By Kathleen Blanchard     Oct 1, 2011 in Science
Researchers recently tested people while measuring their brain activity to find electrical signals differ between people who learn from their mistakes and those who think intelligence is fixed. In other words, if you think you can learn – you can.
For people who think intelligence is fixed, learning is difficult. But people who believe they can get it right are better at learning and correcting their mistakes.
Different brain response in people who learn from their mistakes
Jason S. Moser, of Michigan State University, explains “One big difference between people who think intelligence is malleable and those who think intelligence is fixed is how they respond to mistakes.”
For this study, scientists decided to look at brain signals when in people given a task that is easy to make a mistake on.
Participants wore a cap that measures the electrical activity in the brain. Moser refers to the electrical signals seen when a mistake is made as the “oh crap” response, which happen when a person perceives something isn’t right.
A second measurable signal tells scientists when a person is trying to make a conscious correction. Both signals occur within a quarter of a second when a person recognizes they’ve made a mistake and then tries to correct.
After the experiment, the participants were asked whether or not they believe they can learn from mistakes.
The study, due to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, found those who think they can learn from a mistake did better.
For the research, the participants were asked to repeatedly identify which letter in the middle of a series was different. For example: “MMMMM” or “NNMNN.” Sometimes the letter was the same; other times it was different.
Moser said “It’s pretty simple, doing the same thing over and over, but the mind can’t help it; it just kind of zones out from time to time.”
People who think they can do better after making a mistake had a bigger second brain signal than those who felt they couldn’t learn from making mistakes.
Moser says the finding “… might help us understand why exactly the two types of individuals show different behaviors after mistakes.” He says people are fundamentally different, but the study shows changes in how we learn are indeed possible.
The research may be important for students who may not want to try harder to learn, suggest the authors.
People who believe they can learn from their mistakes have a different brain reaction. The researchers use Henry Ford’s explanation:” Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.”
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