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  • Sarah Shi Hui Wong

The Derring Effect: Deliberate Errors Enhance Learning (Wong & Lim, 2022, JEP: General)

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Reference Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2022). The derring effect: Deliberate errors enhance learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151(1), 25–40.


Wong & Lim (2022) The derring effect - Deliberate errors enhance learning
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Abstract How can we strategically and systematically learn from our errors? Over their long history, errors have traditionally been prevented entirely or, at best, permitted to occur spontaneously. Across three experiments, we tested and found evidence for a counterintuitive phenomenon that we termed the derring effect—deliberately committing errors even when one already knows the correct answers produces superior learning than avoiding them, particularly when one’s errors are corrected. Learners engaged in an educationally relevant task of learning scientific term-definition concepts via open-book study by deliberately generating conceptually incorrect definitions with or without correction, or copying and underlining them (Experiment 1). On a cued recall test, deliberate erring outperformed errorless copying, with error correction yielding an additional benefit. This advantage of deliberate erring persisted over actively generating alternative conceptually correct answers (Experiment 2), which in turn surpassed copying. Even when errorless generation was given a further boost to involve a higher degree of elaboration by prompting learners to generate a specific real-world example that illustrated or applied each concept, deliberately committing and correcting errors still produced better learning (Experiment 3). Altogether, the derring effect is neither fully attributable to a generation nor an elaboration benefit, but stems at least in part from enhanced target processing specific to having first deliberately produced incorrect responses. Notwithstanding deliberate erring’s prowess, learners were largely oblivious to its benefits, misjudging the strategy as less effective. Both theoretical and educational implications of positioning errors as active, systematic, and intentional events in learning are discussed.

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