How Mistakes Affect Us: The Importance of Recovery Time

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-15 02:16

A study has found how mistakes affect us deep in our brain processes.

Making mistakes is natural. As long as a mistake is not fatal, it contributes to what we already know and allows us to do better. However, we don't always learn right away or correct our behavior when we realize we made an error. In fact, realizing that we made a mistake can make us freeze and lead to even more errors.

Time is an important factor to consider. If you've observed how you react to making mistakes, you may have noticed that having limited time to make another decision flusters you. Therefore, there's a higher chance of making another mistake in this situation.

Don't beat yourself up too badly over it, though. Researchers have found that the human brain needs time to recoup, as it were, after realizing an error. This allows the brain to handle a subsequent task with more accuracy, thereby minimizing the chances of making another mistake.

Learning about How Mistakes Affect Us

Time pressure can reduce our accuracy.

A team of researchers ran an experiment on how participants react to making a mistake. The researchers monitored the participants' brain activity through the process of accomplishing a series of tasks. The participants had to sit in front of a screen and watch as two concentric circles flashed briefly before them. If the circles were the same color shade, the participants had to move one hand. If the circles were slightly different shades of the same color, the participants had to raise the other hand.

Once the participants made a mistake in one task, they were able to solve the next task accurately if it came a couple seconds after the previous one. However, the results were different if a new task came less than a second after the participants made a mistake. In these cases, the participants became less accurate by 10% than they previously were.

This happens because the brain needs some time to fully process the mistake. This is how mistakes affect us. We need at least a second or two to shake ourselves out of the funk of making an error. The brain activity of the participants showed that they paid less attention to the next task after they made a mistake. If you compound that with a very limited time period, then another mistake is more likely to occur.

How to Minimize Mistakes

Of course, the experiment is just a reflection of how mistakes affect us. In many everyday situations, people have ample time to recover from the realization that we made a mistake. We can ruminate on a mistake over and over in our head even after we have already recovered from it. In many situations, therefore, we can avoid making a subsequent mistake.

However, there are also other situations in which we may not have the luxury of fully recovering from a mistake. Driving and public speaking are two examples of situations wherein we have to react quickly, despite committing an error. Fortunately, situations like this can train us to recover more quickly while still managing to act correctly.

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