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Learning from Mistakes

January 1, 2008

A genetic variation may impair one’s ability to avoid dangerous choices.


Throwing off trial and error. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A gene variant may make it hard to learn from your mistakes. This according to neurologist Tilmann Klein, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. His team tested volunteers on a computer game, in which unfamiliar symbols generated either positive or negative feedback when selected. People with a gene variant called A1 got subpar scores.

TILMANN KLEIN (Max Planck Institute, Germany):
They learn pretty well to go for the good symbols, but they are impaired in learning from the negative symbols.

They also showed less activity in a part of the brain that processes errors. Since A1 regulates a brain chemical called dopamine, and has been linked to risky behaviors like alcoholism and smoking, Klein’s work suggests that dopamine imbalances might contribute to these complex problems. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.