Why we don’t learn from mistakes
February 24, 2010
You learn from your mistakes,' is a comforting cliché for whenever we do something wrong in life. But it is in fact untrue – as new research suggests we improve only when we get things right.Brain cells (neurons) become more efficient when they make the correct choice but not the wrong one, tests on monkeys showed. When a monkey answered correctly, ‘a signal lingered in its brain that said: “You did the right thing,”' said Prof Earl Miller.
The neuroscientist added: 'After a correct answer, neurons processed information more sharply and effectively, and the monkey was more likely to get the next answer correct as well. But after an error, there was no improvement.'
The primates had to shift their gaze between alternating images on a computer screen and work out through trial and error which way to look to get a reward.
It is hoped the Massachusetts Institute of Technology research could lead to a breakthrough in how we understand and treat learning disorders.