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Fascinating Study On What Learning From Mistakes Does To The Brain


I’ve written a lot about my classroom experiences with students on both helping them learn from mistakes (see The Best Posts, Articles & Videos About Learning From Mistakes & Failures) and helping them learn that their intelligence is not “fixed” (see The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning).

A new study, reported by Scientific-American, has found that believing that you can learn from your mistakes,and that you can learn through effort, has a physical impact on the brain. The study found that the brains of people with a “fixed mindset” acted differently from those with a “growth mindset” and that the stronger the belief in a growth mindset, the more pronounced the brain activity.  Here’s an excerpt:

From the data, it seems that a growth mindset, whereby you believe that intelligence can improve, lends itself to a more adaptive response to mistakes – not just behaviorally, but also neurally: the more someone believes in improvement, the larger the amplitude of a brain signal that reflects a conscious allocation of attention to mistakes. And the larger that neural signal, the better subsequent performance. That mediation suggests that individuals with an incremental theory of intelligence may actually have better self-monitoring and control systems on a very basic neural level: their brains are better at monitoring their own, self-generated errors and at adjusting their behavior accordingly. It’s a story of improved on-line error awareness—of noticing mistakes as they happen, and correcting for them immediately….

The way our brains act, it seems, is sensitive to the way we, their owners, think, from something as concrete to learning, the subject of the current study, to something as theoretical as free will. From broad theories to specific mechanisms, we have an uncanny ability to influence how our minds work—and how we perform, act, and interact as a result.

I’ll certainly be incorporating these finding in future classroom lessons…

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Great study! The obvious question that follows from this… what can a learner do to increase their conviction that learning from mistakes matters? I’m expecting to hear something from you about meditation, positive thinking, mantras and the like. So surprise me and force me to learn from the mistake of that assumption! :D

  2. Yes–this is Carol Dweck’s work of many years now–don’t want to forget to use her name because I think that her work is underrecognized outside of her direct field. I so appreciate her talk of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindset instead of the “victim” vs. “creator” language that skip downing and others use for students.

  3. At a conference last year some colleagues and I (all in higher-ed, so not trained in education) were discussing ways to game-ify the classroom. One of the major issues we talked about was how in some games (like many video games) you fail, you try again, you recognize new information and build on it, improve your skill and keep trying to achieve the next level. You are not punished severely for mistakes (nor do young people give up, they try over and over), but you are rewarded for achieving the eventual goal. Yet in the classroom we do not always use this practice. Interesting to know there is research showing this might be an avenue to pursue for even more reasons than we knew! Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Fascinating Study On What Learning From Mistakes Does To The Brain | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… « MBA English Online

  5. Great post. You should also read my summary of “Better By Mistake” by Alina Tugend at Keep up the good work.

  6. Pingback: Links I Shared With Staff This Week 2-19-12 « principalberry

  7. Wonderful connection and resource for Restorative Justice! Another reason why community members are an important aspect of the RJ triad!


  8. Pingback: Some Interesting Links For Parents 3-15-12 « principalberry

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