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That’s because our brains rely on poorer-quality evidence from the surrounding environment the second time, according to Roozbeh Kiani, an assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Neural Science.
Braden Purcell, a post-doctoral fellow in Kiani’s lab, recently observed this pattern in a study for which he monitored brain activity in humans and monkeys as they made mistakes during a computer game.
The slowness didn’t make them likelier to be right, though, suggesting that the subjects were consistently using weaker information to decide. In the study, this didn’t happen when researchers had subjects wait ashort while before attempting the task again.
The reason for the reliance on worse information might be that “the brain gets involved in a quest to understand why the error took place,” Kiani said. That pause gave subjects’ brains a chance to recover from the negative feedback.
In fact, thinking about past flubs might only doom us to repeat them., Kelly Haws, an associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, asked some participants to recall times that they were successfully able to control their temptation to impulse-buy, and others to recall times they weren’t.“And when we’re feeling down, we tend to splurge,” she said.The common proverb intended to counteract mistake making—“just slow down! After making a mistake, our brains typically do slow down the decision-making process the next time a similar issue comes up, through a phenomenon known as “post-error slowing.” However, that doesn’t always make the next decision more accurate.The results showed “we're not aware of what we’re paying attention to and why,” said Susan Courtney, a cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the study.“There’s nothing inherently rewarding about these colors, it’s just their experience the day before for an hour.” To Courtney, the study helped explain why it’s so hard to kick bad habits or stick to diets.