Study of the Day: The Mindset You Need to Succeed After Failing

Brain scans reveal that, for people who believe in the value of hard work, errors are merely opportunities to grow and improve

main IMAGENFX shutterstock_45812815.jpg

PROBLEM: Previous studies have shown that people who believe that intelligence can improve with time and effort are more likely to bounce back from failure than those who view their abilities as fixed. Why?

METHODOLOGY: Michigan State University psychology professor Jason Moser recruited 25 people to take part in a test that was easy to flub. They asked subjects to wear a cap that recorded electrical brain activity while they identified the letter at the center of a five-letter series, where the middle letter was sometimes the same as the other four ("MMMMM" or "NNMNN"). The researchers quizzed the subjects about their attitudes toward learning after the experiment.

RESULTS: When participants made mistakes, their brain made two quick signals -- an initial reaction that Moser calls the "oh crap response" and a second one that indicated willingness to set things right. People with a growth mindset, or who believed that intelligence develops with hard work, tended to produce a stronger second signal.

CONCLUSION: People who are open to improving are hardwired with an adaptive brain reaction to errors. They're more mindful of and eager to correct their mistakes.

IMPLICATION: Certain students and employees may benefit from training programs designed to help them take advantage of failure. "Instead of just asking people whether they think they can learn from their mistakes or not," Moser says in a statement, "we'd use their brain activity to decide who needs the 'I think I can' training."

SOURCE: The full study, "Mind Your Errors: Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments," is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Image: IMAGENFX/Shutterstock

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Health

Just In