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Natural Awakenings

Shining the Spotlight on Our Successes: Learning to Focus on Our Achievements

Sometimes we may feel doomed to repeat our mistakes, but not if we learn to look to our successes rather than our failures, suggests research from The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It hinges on the fact that, “We have shown that brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not,” explains one of the scientists, and that when a behavior was successful, brain cells became more finely tuned to what is being learned. Failure, on the other hand, appears to produce little or no change in the brain, nor does failure appear to trigger any improvement in behavior.

In their study, the researchers worked with monkeys, giving them trial and error tasks on a computer screen while monitoring their brain activity. When a monkey answered correctly, a signal lingered in its brain, neurons processed information more sharply and effectively, and the monkey was more likely to get the next task right as well. It may help explain the longtime saying, “Success breeds success.”

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