How Your Brain Reacts to Mistakes Depends on Your Mindset


One of the most powerful shifts in your mindset is thinking of mistakes as learning opportunities. Recently a study published in Psychological Science tried to investigate how this attitude affects our brains.

Researchers first hooked up participants to an EEG in order to record electrical activity in the brain. They then had participants perform a simple task where they had to identify the middle letter in a 5 letter series. For example, “MMMMM” or “NNMNN,” where the correct answer is M in both cases. Sometimes the middle letter was the same as the other four, and sometimes it was different.

Although it was an easy exercise, it became tedious enough where many participants would zone out and make silly mistakes from time to time.

Whenever someone made a mistake, the brain would send out two signals. The first signal was when participants realized they messed up – researchers jokingly called this the “Oh crap” response. The second signal was when participants were trying to correct themselves so that the mistake wouldn’t happen again.

The study found that not only do people who adopt a “learn from your mistakes” attitude bounce back easier from mistakes, but their brains also send out a much stronger second signal. This second signal essentially tells us, “I see that I’ve made a mistake, so I should pay more attention.”

A “learn from your mistakes” attitude makes us more responsive to our mistakes and try harder to correct them. But those who think their intelligence is fixed tend to react less and instead repeat the same mistakes over and over. The takeaway message is that when we think we can learn from our mistakes, our brain actually changes the way it responds to failure.

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