Deliberate Erring (aka, The Derring Effect)

Read an amusing column in New Scientist by David Robson, “To err is fruitful”.

Essentially, research suggests that we can improve our recall and deepen our understanding of something by intentionally making up things we know to be wrong - intentional mistakes - before studying, revising, or applying our knowledge.

When revising for an exam it is apparently wise to insert deliberate errors which has led test subjects learning twice as much as the control subjects. You can also pretest people about something they have little to no knowledge about before setting them to research, resulting in them learning more than they otherwise would have.

There seems to be something about making errors that primes us better for getting things right. This seems counterintuitive when you consider that it adds cognitive dissonance and unwanted confusion… but this might be just what the doctor ordered. A confused state may lead to an open mind.

Makes me think about how comedy causes cognitive dissonance that explodes into laughter; juxtaposing two things together that have never been considered before opens the gates of perception.

Improvisation for cognitive good.

Honor your mistake as a hidden intention – Brian Eno

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This is an interesting concept – and one that actually makes sense to me. It’s tied to pattern recognition in a sense; if the mind perceives something that it knows (or has learned) doesn’t quite fit, it will reinforce what it does perceive to be true – hence cementing the learning.

And I fully concur with your thinking about how comedy opens things up; this is why I Iike improv comedy in particular - it provokes the mind keeping it sharp, stimulated, engaged, and open to new ways of seeing things it may not have connected previously. It fosters expanded perspectives and ideas, a state of wonder, and the fun of seeing new connections lights up the mind with delight.

Pattern recognition is one of those double-edged swords of cognitive bias - it helps us at times and hinders us at others.

Wikipedia has a wonderfully (and frightening) list of cognitive biases - here.

When I first read through it, I wondered how in the world our species ever survived! Then it occurred to me that maybe these biases were actually essential to our survival which put everything in a new light. No doubt our more complex societies and technologies frustrate some of our primordial biases but we probably shouldn’t be too condemning of them. If they got us this far they might actually be very useful.

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