We are always told to learn from our mistakes, but a soon-to-be-published study reveals that whether we actually believe this adage affects how our brain reacts to mistakes.

“One big difference between people who think intelligence is malleable and those who think intelligence is fixed is how they respond to mistakes,” said Jason S. Moser, who led the study.

People with a malleable intelligence mindset believe they can learn from their mistakes, whereas those with a fixed intelligence mindset don’t believe they will get any smarter from their mistakes, Moser said.

While wearing caps on their heads to record electrical activity in the brain, participants were given a relatively simple, monotonous task on which Moser said they were likely to make mistakes as their minds wandered. The caps recorded two different signals in the brain as the mistakes were made: one that indicated when a mistake had been made and a second one that indicated that the person was aware of the mistake and was trying to rectify it. The researchers found that not only did those who believed they could learn from their mistakes perform better on the tasks after making the mistakes, but their brains also reacted in a different way. Their brains produced a larger, second signal, which Moser says means “I see that I’ve made a mistake, so I should pay more attention.”

Moser said the study might help researchers understand why exactly the two types of individuals show different behaviors after mistakes.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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