Kids should pay more attention to mistakes, study suggests

January 30, 2017, Michigan State University
A new study led by Hans Schroder, psychology researcher at Michigan State University, suggests children can learn from their mistakes if they pay attention to them. Credit: Michigan State University

Children who believe intelligence can grow pay more attention to and bounce back from their mistakes more effectively than kids who think intelligence is fixed, indicates a new study that measured the young participants' brain waves.

Led by scholars at Michigan State University, the research suggests teachers and parents should help pay more attention to the mistakes they make so they can better learn from them, as opposed to shying away from or glossing over mistakes.

"The main implication here is that we should pay close attention to our mistakes and use them as opportunities to learn," said Hans Schroder, lead author on the study and a fifth-year doctoral student in MSU's Department of Psychology.

Published online in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, the study is one of the first investigations into mindsets and the related brain workings of children. Participants' average age was 7—a time when most children are making the often difficult transition to formal schooling and when mindsets have their most noticeable impact on academic achievement.

For the experiment, 123 children were assessed on whether they had a growth mindset (in which they believe people can work harder get smarter) or a fixed mindset (believing intelligence is set in stone).

The children then took a fast-moving accuracy task on a computer while their was recorded. The task: Help a zookeeper capture escaped animals by pressing the spacebar when an animal appeared—unless it was a group of three orangutan friends, who were helping capture the other animals, in which case they had to withhold their response.

Within half-of-a-second after making a mistake, brain activity increases as the person becomes aware of and pays close attention to what went wrong. Essentially, a bigger brain response means the person is focusing more on the error.

Children with growth mindsets were significantly more likely to have this larger response after making a mistake in the study. In addition, they were more likely to improve their performance on the task after making a mistake.

The study also showed that children with fixed mindsets were also able to bounce back after their mistakes, but only if they paid close attention to the errors. Previous research indicated that people with the fixed mindset don't want to acknowledge they've made a mistake. Some people will even start taking about something else they're good at as a defense mechanism. But the current findings suggest that the more they attend to their errors, fixed-minded children may still be able to recover as well as their growth-minded peers.

Many parents and teachers shy away from addressing a child's , telling them "It's OK, you'll get it the next time," without giving them the opportunity to figure out what went wrong, Schroder said.

"Instead they could say: 'Mistakes happen, so let's try to pay attention to what went wrong and figure it out.'"

Explore further: How your brain reacts to mistakes depends on your mindset

Related Stories

How your brain reacts to mistakes depends on your mindset

September 30, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- “Whether you think you can or think you can't -- you're right,” said Henry Ford. A new study, to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

Nature or nurture? It's all about the message

September 3, 2014
Were Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci born brilliant or did they acquire their intelligence through effort?

Seeing the benefits of failure shapes kids' beliefs about intelligence

April 28, 2016
Parents' beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing guide how their children think about their own intelligence, according to new research from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

When rules change, brain falters

July 30, 2012
For the human brain, learning a new task when rules change can be a surprisingly difficult process marred by repeated mistakes, according to a new study by Michigan State University psychology researchers.

Brain power shortage: Applying new rules is mentally taxing and costly

July 16, 2012
Can you teach an old dog (or human) new tricks? Yes, but it might take time, practice, and hard work before he or she gets it right, according to Hans Schroder and colleagues from Michigan State University in the US. Their ...

Recommended for you

Antidepressants are more effective than placebo at treating acute depression in adults, concludes study

February 22, 2018
Meta-analysis of 522 trials includes the largest amount of unpublished data to date, and finds that antidepressants are more effective than placebo for short-term treatment of acute depression in adults.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Researchers uncover novel mechanism behind schizophrenia

February 21, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientist has uncovered a novel mechanism in which a protein—neuregulin 3—controls how key neurotransmitters are released ...

Self-compassion may protect people from the harmful effects of perfectionism

February 21, 2018
Relating to oneself in a healthy way can help weaken the association between perfectionism and depression, according to a study published February 21, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian ...

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom, study finds

February 21, 2018
How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

When it comes to our brains, there's no such thing as normal

February 20, 2018
There's nothing wrong with being a little weird. Because we think of psychological disorders on a continuum, we may worry when our own ways of thinking and behaving don't match up with our idealized notion of health. But ...

0 comments

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.