We've all hear the old saw about how we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Of course this doesn't explain the Bush family nor why the Democrats can't seem to profit from GOP miscues. But it does make a recent study published in the July 30 issue of the journal Neuron very interesting.
The article is titled Learning Substrates in the Primate Prefrontal Cortex and Striatum: Sustained Activity Related to Successful Actions And according to this article, from Earl K. Miller's lab at MIT, single behavioral outcomes influence future neural activity and behavior. Later behavioral responses are more often correct and single neurons will more accurately discriminate between the possible responses when the previous response was correct.
Neat stuff, huh? Their research indicates that we only receive positive feedback from being right. Being wrong doesn't change the subsequent choices we make. Of course this research was conducted with monkeys, not people. But that brings me back to George W---we have a good amount of data showing that he didn't learn from his mistakes either. I'm just not sure which species of subject in which to place him. Just joking, I think.
Actually research has been done on humans along these lines. There was a study published last year that indicated that young children below the age of 12 didn't learn very well from mistakes but that changed during their teens. (where they found teens that learned from their mistakes wasn't revealed unfortunately---I can think of many parents that would love to know) Young children, like the monkeys in the MIT study, only showed strongly positive learning when praised for being right. Feel free to make conclusions from that if you want to.
That second study was from the 17 September 2008 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, if you want to read it. Evaluating the Negative or Valuing the Positive? Neural Mechanisms Supporting Feedback-Based Learning across Development
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