Different types of mistakes affect your brain differently.

Different types of mistakes affect your brain differently.

Different types of mistakes affect your brain differently. Errors may be broadly categorized as “My Bad” and “It ain’t my fault.”


In 2014, Researchers at Rutgers designed a study to elucidate the brain’s response to errors. Thirty volunteers were recruited to play a video game. They were motivated by a potential prize of ten dollars if  they won the game. The catch was that the game was rigged so that no one could win.


Group A was forced into “My Bad” mistakes. They were presented with an impossibly arduous video game. They struggled against insurmountable challenges and lost the game when they failed to complete required tasks. They were led to believe this failure was within their control, their own fault.


The volunteers were then subjected to functional magnetic resonance images to map their brain activity. The fMRI revealed decreased blood flow (thus electrical activity) to the ventral striatum (an area of the brain considered a primary component of the reward system).


Group B was “The Ain’t My Fault” cohort. The video game they played was more manageable and they were soon able to navigate the game world skillfully. They still lost the game, because they were ‘zapped’ at random points during the game journey. 


When this group underwent fMRI a different part of their brains was found to be involved. The brains of these volunteers demonstrated dampened activity in the orbitofrontal region of the prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain that controls executive functions).


After failing, the two groups were asked, “Do you want another shot at playing (winning $10)?”


Volunteers in the “My bad” group were likely to answer, “Sure, I think I learned something from that last game. I’ll try again.”


Volunteers in the “It ain’t my fault” group were more likely to answer, “That the game was out of my control. I give up.”


When you believe that you have control over your destiny like those in the “My bad” group, even mistakes have the ability to light up the pleasure center in your brain and you are eager to take on new challenges.


If your life events show you that failure is outside your control, like those in the “It ain’t my fault” group, the executive area of your brain shuts down and you lose all motivation.