learning from others’ mistakes: what the brain notices

Volunteers played a simple game, modeled after foraging in the wild, against a computer-controlled com­petitor. Players chose one of four boxes, which paid out varying sums of money. To maximize winnings, a player had to occasionally sample each of the boxes. When players saw their competitors get an unexpectedly high sum, functional MRI scans showed no measurable brain activity in reaction. When the drones got an unexpectedly low payout, however, parts of a player’s brain associated with inhi­bition went bonkers.

I wonder if this is why it’s a common human tendency to focus more on our own mistakes than our own successes. Is it a hardwired method of learning? Perhaps at one time it meant that humans could avoid getting eaten by a tiger or falling off a cliff. That would be useful. Too bad it gets over-generalized to misery and anxiety over non-tigerish situations.

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Categories Miscellany

2 thoughts on “learning from others’ mistakes: what the brain notices

  1. That lizard brain is very powerful and very loud. Plus, all the modern brain that exists on top of it is highly sophisticated, but just makes matters worse by magnifying the lizard brain’s anxieties when it gets going. One of those situations where we are actually undermined by evolution rather than aided by it!

    1. Isn’t it interesting how the more recent part of the brain can easily talk us into heightened anxiety but not out of it?

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