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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

You Think Failure Is Hard? So Is Learning From It

Eskreis-Winkler, L., & Fishbach, A. (2022).
Perspectives on Psychological Science. 


Society celebrates failure as a teachable moment. But do people actually learn from failure? Although lay wisdom suggests people should, a review of the research suggests that this is hard. We present a unifying framework that points to emotional and cognitive barriers that make learning from failure difficult. Emotions undermine learning because people find failure ego-threatening. People tend to look away from failure and not pay attention to it to protect their egos. Cognitively, people also struggle because the information in failure is less direct than the information in success and thus harder to extract. Beyond identifying barriers, this framework suggests inroads by which barriers might be addressed. Finally, we explore implications. We outline what, exactly, people miss out on when they overlook the information in failure. We find that the information in failure is often high-quality information that can be used to predict success.


From a young age, we are told that there is information in failure, and we ought to learn from it. Yet, people struggle to see the information in failure. As a result, they struggle to learn.  We present a unifying framework that identifies the emotional and cognitive barriers that make it difficult for people to learn from failure.

Understanding these barriers is especially important when one considers the information in failure. The information in failure is both rich and unique—indeed it is often richer, more informative, and more useful than the information in success.

What to do in a world where the information in failure is rich, yet people struggle to see it? One recommendation is to explore the solutions that we propose here. Remove the ego from failure, shore up the ego so it can tolerate failure, and ease the cognitive burdens of learning from failure to promote it in practice and through culture. We believe such techniques are well worth understanding and investing in, since there is so much to learn from the information in failure when we see it.