May 11 2013

Wired Magazine: "Why Do Some People Learn Faster?"

Because some people are better at failing than others.

Michigan State professor Jason Moser questions why,  if all of us fail, do some learn from their mistakes while others do not? In this 2011 article, the now disgraced but still charming Jonah Lehrer describes the assumptions, mechanism and results behind Moser’s work. To summarize his summary:

We all have an initial reaction to failure. It happens in the first 50 milliseconds after we do something wrong. The response is involuntary. Boom, you recognize that you screwed up. But then there is a second reaction, called error positivity or Pe; it comes 100-500 milliseconds after the event. It’s a kind of double take: you focus on the error and really bring it into awareness.

Those individuals who have a big initial reaction and a more consistent Pe turn out to be the learning champs.

Link to the article here.

How can you feel your mistakes more keenly?

In a recent study involving a series of purposely frustrating tasks, leaners trained to  embrace the growth mindset of Stanford researcher Carol Dweck*  generated much higher Pe scores (15 as opposed to 5) than their fellows. At the same time they were more successful at persevering until they mastered their tasks,  implying that extra awareness to error helps performance.

 Background:

*Carol Dweck’s  growth vs fixed mindset studies have shown that learners who are praised for their smarts become focused on appearing smart and grow afraid of taking risks that might make them look bad while learners who are praised for trying hard become focused on working hard. These students perform markedly better than their “smarter” peers as time goes by.

link here to Carol Dweck videos

From the article:

The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence — the “smart” compliment — is that it misrepresents the psychological reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is when we learn from our mistakes. Because unless we experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong — that surge of Pe activity a few hundred milliseconds after the error, directing our attention to the very thing we’d like to ignore — the mind will never revise its models. We’ll keep on making the same mistakes, forsaking self-improvement for the sake of self-confidence. Samuel Beckett had the right attitude: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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