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Hypercorrection helps people learn from their mistakes

Posting in Technology

Brain scans show that people with faulty convictions are better at remembering corrected information.

Have you ever been embarrassed about finding out that something you truly believed was right turned out to be wrong? Don't worry.

New research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that people who strongly hold false convictions actually have a better chance of retaining the right information when corrected. This is known as the hypercorrection effect.

Scientific American reports:

"Scientists reason that in hypercorrection, after people discover that ideas they felt very sure about were not in fact correct, the surprise and embarrassment they feel makes them pay special attention to alternative responses about which they felt less confident. People then go on to take the corrected information to heart, learning from their errors."

To understand how this works in the brain, Columbia University cognitive psychologist Janet Metcalfe and colleagues used fMRI to scan the brains of 14 people while they answered a series of questions. After answering each question, participants had to rate how confident they were about the validity of their responses.

Regions of the brain related to attention, social processes and metacognition lit up for both right and wrong answers, supporting the hypercorrection effect.

While the anterior cingulate, a region of the brain associated with embarrassment and surprise, lit up when participants learned their answers were wrong, it was not activated as much when participants learned of a wrong answer to a question with which they had very low confidence. That suggests the right answer did not leave such an impression on the mind and could easily be forgotten.

But, if people were very confident about an answer that turned out to be wrong, there was a lot of activation in an area of the brain linked to thinking about what others know and an area linked with forgetting.

"The former suggests that subjects recognized that others had different beliefs than them, whereas the latter hints they may have been suppressing their wrong answers after learning they were incorrect," Scientific American reports.

This research has implications for the way knowledge is taught and shows how making a mistake might help you in the long run.

So don't feel bad if for many years you believed King Henry VIII had 10 wives. It's actually six. And now you might never forget that.

Certainty Principle: People Who Hold False Convictions Are Better at Retaining Corrected Information  [Scientific American]

Photo via flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure