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Making Mistakes While Learning Benefits Memory

Update Date: Oct 27, 2014 07:13 PM EDT

It is better for memory to make mistakes while learning and lead to the correct answer, according to a new study. However, it is effective only if the guesses are close-but-no-cigar, the findings of the study added. 

"Making random guesses does not appear to benefit later memory for the right answer , but near-miss guesses act as stepping stones for retrieval of the correct information - and this benefit is seen in younger and older adults," said lead investigator Andrée-Ann Cyr, a graduate student with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, in the press release.

That paper raised eyebrows since the scientific literature has traditionally recommended that older adults avoid making mistakes - unlike their younger peers who actually benefit from them. But recent evidence from Cyr and other researchers is challenging this perspective and prompting professional educators and cognitive rehabilitation clinicians to take note, the press release added. 

"These results have profound clinical and practical implications. They turn traditional views of best practices in memory rehabilitation for healthy seniors on their head by demonstrating that making the right kind of errors can be beneficial. They also provide great hope for lifelong learning and guidance for how seniors should study," said Dr. Nicole Anderson, senior scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and senior author on the study, according to the press release.

The study has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

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