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Go Ahead, Make a Mistake – Your Brain Will Learn Faster

go ahead make mistake

We all know that we learn from our mistakes. But new research specifically indicates that our brains learn faster from our mistakes.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins university determined that people learn an identical or similar task faster the second, third and subsequent time around because they are helped by memories of how to perform the task and by memories of the errors made the first time.

Motor learning theorists know that when learning a new motor skill the brain notes their brains notes small differences in the environment during motor skill practice and uses this information to perform the motor skill task more smoothly next time. Those small differences are called prediction errors and the process of learning from them is mostly automatic.

This experiment where participants manipulated a joystick that they could not see helped the researchers determine that prediction errors also teach the brain how to learn faster from errors, even when those errors are encountered in a completely different task. Therefore, the brain can generalize from one motor skill task to another by keeping a memory of the errors. The participants learned to give frequent errors more value as learning cues while not paying as much attention to errors that appeared as by chance.

To summarize, the researchers determined that the brain is giving weight to different types of errors to provide feedback when learning a motor skill task. This “coaching” that the brain is doing helps a person to learn similar future motor tasks quicker because the brain remembers what errors it should pay closer attention to.

Reference: “A memory of errors in sensorimotor learning,” by D.J. Herzfeld; P.A. Vaswani; M. Marko; R. Shadmehr, Science, 2014. www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1253138

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