Remembering mistakes helps speed up learning

A new study has revealed that memories of the errors made the first time helps learning a task faster.

Washington: A new study has revealed that memories of the errors made the first time helps learning a task faster.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, in learning a new motor task, there appear to be two processes happening at once and one is the learning of the motor commands in the task, and the other is critiquing the learning, much the way a `coach` behaves. Learning the next similar task goes faster, because the coach knows which errors are most worthy of attention. In effect, this second process leaves a memory of the errors that were experienced during the training, so the re-experience of those errors makes the learning go faster.

Reza Shadmehr said that scientists who study motor control - how the brain pilots body movement - have long known that as people perform a task, like opening a door, their brains note small differences between how they expected the door to move and how it actually moved, and they use this information to perform the task more smoothly next time. Those small differences are scientifically termed "prediction errors," and the process of learning from them is largely unconscious.
To study errors and learning, Shadmehr`s team put volunteers in front of a joystick that was under a screen. Volunteers couldn`t see the joystick, but it was represented on the screen as a blue dot. A target was represented by a red dot, and as volunteers moved the joystick toward it, the blue dot could be programmed to move slightly off-kilter from where they pointed it, creating an error. Participants then adjusted their movement to compensate for the off-kilter movement and, after a few more trials, smoothly guided the joystick to its target.

In the study, the movement of the blue dot was rotated to the left or the right by larger or smaller amounts until it was a full 30 degrees off from the joystick`s movement. The research team found that volunteers responded more quickly to smaller errors that pushed them consistently in one direction and less to larger errors and those that went in the opposite direction of other feedback.

The study was published in Science Express.

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