New study suggests we learn more from successes than from failures

Science Daily reports:

If you’ve ever felt doomed to repeat your mistakes, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory may have explained why: Brain cells may only learn from experience when we do something right and not when we fail.

In the July 30 issue of the journal Neuron, Earl K. Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, and MIT colleagues Mark Histed and Anitha Pasupathy have created for the first time 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.

“We have shown that brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not,” Miller said. Furthermore, when a 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.

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