For people with memory problems, preventing mistakes is a better learning strategy

December 17, 2015

Do people learn from their mistakes? This question is often a subject of discussion at rehabilitation centres. For people with memory problems preventing mistakes is a better learning strategy. Neuropsychologist Dirk Bertens has now demonstrated that 'errorless learning' also works with people with non-congenital brain damage. He will be awarded a PhD for his research by Radboud University on 8 January 2016.

A significant proportion of with brain damage that has been caused by a stroke or accident suffer from disrupted executive functions: for them, actions that consist of several steps and require planning are difficult. That causes problems because virtually all of our everyday actions consist of several steps, even holding a normal conversation. Such patients therefore receive training to relearn these everyday tasks.

Errorless-learning doves

In 'errorless learning' you prevent mistakes from occurring by dividing the target to be achieved into steps and explaining those with extensive descriptions, examples, visual instructions and especially pauses in between the steps. Errorless learning originates from research into doves. The American psychologist Herbert Terrace taught doves to peck at a red button but not a green one. As the task was slowly made more complex – first the doves only learned the difference between the colours red and green and then the difference between the red and the green button – the doves rarely made mistakes in the last, most difficult task.

Beekeeping and Internet banking

In people the principle has so far been investigated among individuals with memory disorders, such as dementia, and for them it appears to be a successful approach.

Dirk Bertens investigated the effect of the training on sixty people with non-congenital who had problems with planning. The participants were allowed to choose two to train on. Bertens: "They chose tasks such as Internet banking or making lasagne. One participant was a beekeeper and chose to practise investigating his beehives and subsequently filling in a report. So that is what we did."

Neuropsychologist Dirk Bertens during the inspection of one of the participant's beehives.

Error versus errorless

Half of the group received a 'standard' trial-and-error training and the other half practised with an errorless learning method. Whereas the first group were given the space to make errors and to subsequently correct these, the second group received extensive instructions both before and during the realisation of the task. "We briefly paused between each intermediate step to check if things were still going well. The participants found it particularly difficult to pause for such an evaluation moment. However, after eight training sessions they realised the tasks better than the participants in the control group."

Both the trainers and the participants saw a clear improvement after the errorless training sessions. "I would like to implement the principle of errorless learning in rehabilitation centres throughout the Netherlands," says Bertens. "With this implementation it can be examined whether there are even more patient groups who could benefit from this approach, for example individuals with congenital learning disorders or disabilities."

Explore further: Learning information the hard way may be best 'boot camp' for older brains

Related Stories

Learning information the hard way may be best 'boot camp' for older brains

August 24, 2011
Canadian researchers have found the first evidence that older brains get more benefit than younger brains from learning information the hard way – via trial-and-error learning.

Boosting experience-dependent neuroplasticity in adult brains

December 8, 2015
(Medical Xpress)—Experience-dependent neuroplasticity refers to the brain's capacity to change in response to experience, repeated stimuli, environmental cues, and learning. It's a fundamental property of brain function, ...

MS researchers find task meaningfulness influences learning and memory

February 21, 2014
Kessler Foundation researchers have found that among persons with multiple sclerosis, self-generation may be influenced by variables such as task meaningfulness during learning and memory. They also found that type of task ...

Opposites don't attract when learning how to use a prosthesis

October 8, 2015
New research suggests that upper limb amputees, who typically struggle to learn how to use a new prosthesis, would be more successful if fellow amputees taught them. Most usually learn by watching a non-amputee demonstrate ...

Smartphone training helps people with memory impairment regain independence

February 8, 2012
The treatment for moderate-to-severe memory impairment could one day include a prescription for a smartphone.

Recommended for you

Research redefines proteins' role in the development of spinal sensory cells

September 19, 2017
A recent study led by Samantha Butler at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA has overturned a common belief about how a certain class of proteins in the spinal cord regulate ...

The brain at work: Spotting half-hidden objects

September 19, 2017
How does a driver's brain realize that a stop sign is behind a bush when only a red edge is showing? Or how can a monkey suspect that the yellow sliver in the leaves is a round piece of fruit?

Team discovers how to train damaging inflammatory cells to promote repair after stroke

September 19, 2017
White blood cells called neutrophils are like soldiers in your body that form in the bone marrow and at the first sign of microbial attack, head for the site of injury just as fast as they can to neutralize invading bacteria ...

Epileptic seizures show long-distance effects

September 19, 2017
The area in which an epileptic seizure starts in the brain, may be small but it reaches other parts of the brain at distances of over ten centimeters. That distant activity, in turn, influences the epileptic core, according ...

Study uncovers markers for severe form of multiple sclerosis

September 18, 2017
Scientists have uncovered two closely related cytokines—molecules involved in cell communication and movement—that may explain why some people develop progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), the most severe form of the disease. ...

Genetically altered mice bear some hallmarks of human bipolar behavior

September 18, 2017
Johns Hopkins researchers report they have genetically engineered mice that display many of the behavioral hallmarks of human bipolar disorder, and that the abnormal behaviors the rodents show can be reversed using well-established ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.