Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why We Don't Always Learn From Our Mistakes

Date:
April 2, 2008
Source:
McMaster University
Summary:
If you are struggling to retrieve a word that you are certain is on the tip of your tongue, or trying to perfect a slapshot that will send your puck flying into a hockey net, or if you keep stumbling over the same sequence of notes on the piano, be warned: you might be unconsciously creating a pattern of failure, a new study reveals. Researchers find that practice doesn't always make perfect; sometimes the effort instills a pattern that dooms us to failure.

If you are struggling to retrieve a word that you are certain is on the tip of your tongue, or trying to perfect a slapshot that will send your puck flying into a hockey net, or if you keep stumbling over the same sequence of notes on the piano, be warned: you might be unconsciously creating a pattern of failure, a new study reveals.

Karin Humphreys, assistant professor in McMaster University's Faculty of Science, and Amy Beth Warriner, an undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, suggest that most errors are repeated because the very act of making a mistake, despite receiving correction, constitutes the learning of that mistake.

Humphreys says the research came about as a result of her own experiences of repeatedly getting into a tip-of-the-tongue (or TOT) state on particular words.

"This can be incredibly frustrating -- you know you know the word, but you just can't quite get it," she said. "And once you have it, it is such a relief that you can't imagine ever forgetting it again. But then you do. So we began thinking about the mechanisms that might underlie this phenomenon. We realized that it might not be a case of everyone having certain words that are difficult for them to remember, but that by getting into a tip-of-the-tongue state on a particular word once, they actually learn to go into that incorrect state when they try to retrieve the same word again."

Humphreys and Warriner tested 30 students to see if their subjects could retrieve words after being given a definition. e.g. "What do you call an instrument for performing calculations by sliding beads along rods or grooves" (Answer: abacus). They then had to say whether they knew the answer, didn't know it, or were in a TOT. If they were in a TOT, they were randomly assigned to spend either 10 or 30 seconds trying to retrieve the answer before finally being shown it. Two days later, subjects were tested on those same words again. One would assume that having been shown the correct word on Day 1 the subject would still remember it on Day 2. Not so. The subjects tended to TOT on the same words as before, and were especially more likely to do so if they had spent a longer time trying to retrieve them The longer time in the error state appears to reinforce that incorrect pattern of brain activation that caused the error.

"It's akin to spinning one's tires in the snow: despite your perseverance you're only digging yourself a deeper rut," the researchers explained.

There might be a strategy to solve the recurrence of tip-of-the-tongue situations, which is what Warriner is currently working on for her honours thesis.

"If you can find out what the word is as soon as possible--by looking it up, or asking someone--you should actually say it to yourself," says Humphreys. "It doesn't need to be out loud, but you should at least say it to yourself. By laying down another procedural memory you can help ameliorate the effects of the error. However, what the research shows is that if you just can't figure it out, stop trying: you're just digging yourself in deeper."

The research appears April 1, 2008 in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McMaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

McMaster University. "Why We Don't Always Learn From Our Mistakes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401102954.htm>.
McMaster University. (2008, April 2). Why We Don't Always Learn From Our Mistakes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401102954.htm
McMaster University. "Why We Don't Always Learn From Our Mistakes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080401102954.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins