Do we learn how to get it right because we think about what we got wrong?

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I was interested in this article on what helps people learn from the excellent blog, The Frontal Cortex, written by journalist and science writer, Jonah Lehrer.

"It turned out that those subjects with a growth mindset were significantly better at learning from their mistakes. As a result, they showed a spike in accuracy immediately following an error. Most interesting, though, was the EEG data, which demonstrated that those with a growth mindset generated a much larger Pe signal, indicating increased attention to their mistakes. (While those with an extremely fixed mindset generated a Pe amplitude around five, those with a growth mindset were closer to fifteen.) What's more, this increased Pe signal was nicely correlated with improvement after error, implying that the extra awareness was paying dividends in performance. Because the subjects were thinking about what they got wrong, they learned how to get it right."

Carole Dweck's research has a lot of appeal. Her recent research has looked at what she calls a "growth mindset" versus "a fixed one." A growth mindset believes that in learning effort counts most, that we make mistakes because we are still learning. A fixed mindset believes that our ability to learn is fixed. We make mistakes because we can't learn, not because we haven't tried hard enough or are still in the process of learning.

The study reported in The Frontal Cortex went one step further, to see what happened in the brain as one tried to learn. First, participants had to detect that they had made an error. Then, they had increased attention to avoid making the error again. The researchers found differences in brain activity between people in the "Growth Mindset" group and in the "Fixed Mindset" group.

But as I thought about this research in the context of Behavioral Psychology, I was struck by the level of theoretical buzz going on here. In class yesterday, Dr Peterson was describing the effectiveness of clicker training for animals and athletes. A radical behaviorist would say that you don't need to hypothesize the existence of mental states such as a "growth mindset" or a "fixed mindset." You just need to provide reinforcement (***CLICK!***) for successive approximations to the target behavior of correctly identifying the middle letter in a meaningless sequence of letters, such as "MMMMM" or "NNMNN." I wonder what the results of this study would look like if the researcher used clicker feedback to reward participants when they correctly identified the middle letter rather than waiting to see what happens when participants makes an error.

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This page contains a single entry by khbriggs published on October 11, 2011 10:29 AM.

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