September 8, 2009

Differential effects of failure and success on neuron development

The assertion that we can learn something from every failure is often heard. A study by Earl Miller and his colleagues Mark Histed and Anitha Pasupathy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory tests that notion by looking at the learning process at the level of neurons. The study shows how brains learn more effectively form success than from failure. The researchers created a unique snapshot of the learning process that shows how single cells change their responses in real time as a result of information about what is the right action and what is the wrong one. Brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not. When certain behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain -- nor was there any improvement in behavior. This research seems to support SF’s assumption that analysing why something went wrong is unlikely to lead to ideas about how to create a better situation. 

Hat tip to Paolo Terni

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