If you’re in business for yourself, competition is just part of your day. But you may be watching for the wrong thing when it comes to assessing and beating your competition. According to one study at Bristol University, the brain seems to learn more when the competition makes a mistake rather than a winning move.
The team scanned subjects brains as they played a simple game against a computer. Players learned quickly from their own successes, but their neural activity was not increased when the computer opponent had successes. What DID light up the brains of players was when the computer made a mistake.
Such failures generated both reward signals in the brains of the players, and learning signals in regions involved with inhibiting response. This suggests that we benefit from our competitors’ failures by learning to inhibit the actions that lead to them.
What was even more surprising was that mirror neurons were activated in the players’ brains.
Such ‘mirror neuron’ activities occur when we observe the actions of other humans but here the players knew their opponent was just a computer and no animated graphics were used.
The take home here, of course, is that in business you’ll gain much more value from your competitor’s mistakes than from their successes.