The error-related negativity signal (ERN) is the brain's equivalent of Homer Simpson's 'D'oh!' and occurs around 100 milliseconds after a mistake has been made. Researchers at the University of Toronto looked into the strength of people's ERN skills as they undertook a Stroop task. (Stroop tasks are ones in which, for example, the word 'green' is printed in red ink and participants have to read out either the word or the colour it is printed in.) They then compared the strength of people's ERN signals with their college grades and found that those with large ERN signals did significantly better. Those students with large ERN signals were more likely to slow down in order to correct their mistakes and avoid future errors, leading to better grades. About half of people's ERN signal strength is due to genetics so it could be possible to find ways of boosting the other half. Having a very large ERN might not be quite so good though as it could lead to people becoming over-anxious about making a mistake.
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