Mistakes make success

There are two types of people in terms of how we think about intelligence; there are those who think intelligence is malleable and those who think it is fixed. Which are you? New research has shown that the brains of these two types react very differently making a mistake and that in turn has big implications for how they live their lives.

For the experiment, the participants were asked to complete a task in which it was easy to make mistakes. They had to identify the middle letter in a sequence of five letters. Sometimes the middle letter was different (MMNMM) and sometimes it was the same as the other letters (MMMMM). It is not a difficult task but after you have been doing it for a while, it is easy to make errors. Prior to the test the participants had been given a questionnaire to establish whether they believed intelligence is malleable or fixed.

While doing the tasks, the participants wore a cap that recorded electrical activity in their brain.

It is known that when someone makes a mistake their brain emits two quick signals. Initially there is what is technically known in psychological circles as the “oh, crap” response. This is the initial recognition that something has gone awry. Then there is a second brain response indicating that the brain is aware at a conscious level of the mistake and is trying to correct it. Both of these brain responses occur within a quarter of a second of making the mistake.

The results showed two significant things. People who believe that intelligence is malleable bounced back more successfully after an error. Their brains also produced a bigger second signal showing that they pay more attention to their mistakes.

In surveys people who believe that intelligence is malleable say things like, “When the going gets tough, I put in more effort” or “If I make a mistake, I try to learn and figure it out”. People who think intelligence is fixed tend to think that it is not worth bothering to try harder if they fail.

As the old saying goes, failure is not in the falling down, but the staying down. Seeing your intelligence and your mind as something growing and changeable and infinite in potential is a far more empowering way to see yourself. Examine how you think about these things and if you see your capacities as fixed, try on another way of looking at things; it could change your life.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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