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Learning to Become an Expert
While all people make mistakes, experts learn best from the error in their ways. Funded by NSF, Dr. Jim Tanaka of the Temporal Dynamics Learning Center, his colleague Dr. Clay Holroyd and their students measured electrophysiological brain activity while participants learned to categorize perceptually similar "blobs" into blob families. When participants committed a categorization error, they were given a negative feedback message, which, in turn, elicited a brain potential called the Error-Related Negativity (ERN). For participants who were able to learn the blob families, the onset of the ERN brain potential shifted from the time of feedback to the time of response. This finding suggests that the expert categorizers were aware of their mistakes even before the feedback information was given. Interestingly, participants who were unable to learn the categorization task displayed no shift in their brain activity and remained reliant on the external feedback throughout the experiment.. This research has real world implications in the classroom as teachers could evaluate the type of feedback that might be most effective for student learning.