You learn less from your own mistake than from success. Only when it comes to other people’s victories and defeats do we benefit equally from both. This phenomenon is described by psychologists Lauren Eskreis-Winkler of Northwestern University and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago in Perspectives on Psychological Science. In 2019, they had already shown in a series of studies with more than 1,600 subjects that negative feedback prevents learning, even when a reward attracts attention. Test subjects were always asked to choose between two alternative answers to a question. They were randomly told that they were right or wrong. In both cases, they knew what the correct answer was. Next, another test was carried out with the same content, but formulated in reverse. For example, the question “Which of these two ancient characters shows an animal?” in the second test it was “Which of these two ancient characters does not show an animal?” Result: After successful feedback, test subjects in the second round knew the correct answer to the same question an average of 80 percent of the time. After feedback on failure, they only got to 60 percent: they had learned less from it. A similar effect was also seen with questions about images of people (“Are these two people a couple?”), as well as with questions of a professional nature. In addition, the participants remembered the two answer alternatives less after their failures (59 percent) than when they received no answer (94 percent). But if they didn’t answer the questions themselves in the first round, but had other people present them with the right and wrong answers, they got as much information from their mistakes as from their hits. As long as it was not about themselves, a mistake was apparently no longer an obstacle to learning.
A mistake threatens the ego
Now psychologists analyzed the causes. His conclusion: learning from one’s mistakes is exhausting, emotionally and cognitively. On the one hand, failure threatens the ego and, to protect it, attention is diverted to it. On the other hand, people prefer to process information that is consistent with their beliefs and expectations and ignore information that contradicts them, a common error in judgment known as confirmation bias. Furthermore, the information contained in the failure is not always apparent. You have to think around the corner and deduce the right from the wrong. But in doing so, you get in your own way. Those who are able to learn from failure increase their chances of future success, Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach write. They recommend leaving the ego aside: learning from the mistakes of others, conducting constructive self-talk or reinforcing one’s own self-esteem in the long term so that the ego can calmly face failure.
Referencia: «You Think Failure Is Hard? So Is Learning From It». L. Eskreis-Winkler y A. Fishbach en Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 17(6), págs. 1511–1524, 2022.