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 July 26, 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 July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. 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