Why Do Some People Learn Faster?

An article at Wired covers several experiments in brain function and learning. First, we find that there are two distinct reactions in the brain when we make a mistake, and their relative performance determines how well we learn from a mistake. Then we find that people with open minds are more likely to change their behavior after a mistake. And then there's a real world application, tested by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.
Her most famous study, conducted in twelve different New York City schools along with Claudia Mueller, involved giving more than 400 fifth graders a relatively easy test consisting of nonverbal puzzles. After the children finished the test, the researchers told the students their score, and provided them with a single line of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence. “You must be smart at this,” the researcher said. The other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

The students were then allowed to choose between two different subsequent tests. The first choice was described as a more difficult set of puzzles, but the kids were told that they’d learn a lot from attempting it. The other option was an easy test, similar to the test they’d just taken.

When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.

A further experiment showed how fear of failure can inhibit learning. Read about all of them at The Frontal Cortex. Link

(Image credit: Flickr user mujalifah)

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I went to college with a guy who had a true photographic memory. You could ask him what was on say page 168 of a textbook and he'd tell you. Our brains are all wired in a variety of ways. How else can you explain differences in mentality when it comes to liberal vs. conservative politics?
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I'd like to see a study on "photographic memory" -- why two people can read the same textbook, for example, but one of them remembers everything they read while the other doesn't. Rote memorization gets a bad rap, but those who can do it ace their tests.
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