Alex O'Brien


The reason we make the same mistake twice

The reason we make the same mistake twice

Researchers have found that the brain fails to learn from the past, leaving us doomed to repeat the same errors over and over again.

Think about the last time you had a bad meal at a restaurant. Most likely you spent some time discussing with friends and family about how disappointed you were with your meal. You may have even gone online to post a bad review.

Yet how often do we find ourselves sitting down to dine at that same restaurant only a short time later? It’s as though we don’t trust ourselves enough to think that the restaurant should be avoided. Maybe it was just an off day, you might think.

There’s a good reason for this apparent lack of good judgment. It seems that our brains are not hard wired to learn from our mistakes.

The idea of just slowing down and paying attention doesn’t seem to help either. After a mistake, our brain will slow down the decision-making process next time a similar issue comes up, yet this doesn’t guarantee that the decision will be better that time around.

In an experiment, researchers looked at the brain activity of both humans and monkeys as they made errors while playing a computer game. After making a mistake, humans and monkeys both took longer making decisions the next time.

But even taking more time didn’t seem to make them more likely to make the right choice, which researchers felt could be due to participants using weaker information to make their choices.

We use this less reliable information as the brain starts to focus on why the mistake happened in the first place. For instance you might question whether there is something wrong with your eyesight, or whether some external factor affected your choice. These negative thoughts end up distracting the person from the decision in front of them.

The researchers later found that this wasn’t the case when the subjects were given a short break before attempting the task a second time. This gave them a chance to shake off the negative internal chatter and focus on the task at hand with fresh eyes.

This could be why we often have trouble remembering certain people’s names, or particular words, on a regular basis. Once you have trouble recalling it the first time, the brain sets up a mistake pathway, which further entrenches the error in your mind.

So it seems the best option to avoid making the same mistakes again is to think about the future rather than the past. There is a chance the restaurant will be better the second time again, but to be sure it might be better to visit another establishment (with good reviews).

Have you ever found yourself repeating the same mistakes over and over, without even realising it? We would love to hear your story in the comments.

Related links:

Overcoming pain using the power of the mind

The 4 tricks guaranteed to make you a morning person

5 extraordinarily simple ways to be happy

Our Partners