Learning to fail

An article in LiveScience examines the counterintuitive idea that ” We sure do learn from our mistakes, but what we learn is how to make more mistakes.  A study of the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon lead researchers to this conclusion.  The researchers tested word-retrieval in 30 undergraduate students:

The students were offered a series of definitions and had to indicate whether they knew the answer, didn’t know it, or if the answer was at the tip of his or her tongue. If a student answered TOT, he or she spent either 10 seconds or 30 seconds trying to come up with the word before getting the answer. Two days later, students completed the same word-retrieval test with the same definitions.

Students tended to report TOT for the same words that twisted their tongues in the first test. Those who were given 30-second stints to retrieve the words in past tests were even more likely to get stuck again.

The period in which people continue to rack their brains for the answer could be referred to as “error learning,” Humphreys said. “You’ll keep on digging yourself the wrong pathway, you either have 10 seconds worth of that extra bad learning or you have 30 seconds worth of that extra bad learning.”

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