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Learning information the hard way may be best 'boot camp' for older brains
Date:8/23/2011

Toronto, Canada Canadian researchers have found the first evidence that older brains get more benefit than younger brains from learning information the hard way via trial-and-error learning.

The study was led by scientists at Baycrest's world-renowned Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and appears online Aug. 24, 2011 in the journal Psychology and Aging, ahead of the print edition.

The finding will surprise professional educators and cognitive rehabilitation clinicians as it challenges a large body of published science which has shown that making mistakes while learning information hurts memory performance for older adults, and that passive "errorless" learning (where the correct answer is provided) is better suited to older brains.

"The scientific literature has traditionally embraced errorless learning for older adults. However, our study has shown that if older adults are learning material that is very conceptual, where they can make a meaningful relationship between their errors and the correct information that they are supposed to remember, in those cases the errors can actually be quite beneficial for the learning process," said Andre-Ann Cyr, the study's lead investigator.

Cyr conducted the research at Baycrest as a doctoral student in Psychology (University of Toronto), in collaboration with senior author and scientist Dr. Nicole Anderson of Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute. Dr. Anderson specializes in cognitive rehabilitation research with older adults.

In two separate studies, researchers compared the memory benefits of trial-and-error learning (TEL) with errorless learning (EL) in memory exercises with groups of healthy young and older adults. The young adults were in their 20s; the older adults' average age was 70. TEL is considered a more effortful cognitive encoding process where the brain has to "scaffold" its way to making richer associations and linkages in order to reach the corr
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Contact: Kelly Connelly
kconnelly@baycrest.org
416-785-2432
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Source:Eurekalert

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