Why Some People Don't Learn From Their Mistakes

Not everyone is capable of learning from their mistakes. According to science, this could be due to the lack of two emotions: shame and guilt. However, there are other equally striking factors. We take a look at them below.
Why Some People Don't Learn From Their Mistakes
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Some people don’t learn from their mistakes. They’re the kinds of people who keep repeatedly stumbling over the same stone. In fact, not only do they trip over it but they become attached to it and carry it around with them. It’s easy to believe that this type of person shows little more than blindness to experience, a cognitive clumsiness, or an emotional immaturity that forces them to make mistakes that are obvious to others.

However, we’re all rather good at pointing out others’ faults. Furthermore, let’s face it… who hasn’t ever made the same mistake two or three times over? For example, we tend to drift into the same types of relationships over and over again, embracing the same ties that hurt us. It’s also pretty common for us to insist on certain impossible goals, those that have only brought us failure in the past.

Is this being headstrong? Sometimes, yes. Is it being naive? Maybe. In fact, it’s worth remembering how Albert Einstein defined insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t assume that we’re insane. What we should do is detect our mistakes, learn from them, and start alternative behaviors to move forward, grow, and improve in every way possible. However, this isn’t always easy to do. Let’s find out why.

Boy thinking, depicting people who don't learn from their mistakes.

Why don’t some people learn from their mistakes?

There are many reasons why people don’t learn from their mistakes. Before we delve into its origins, we must keep in mind that there are different kinds of mistakes. An example of one type of mistake might be repeatedly trusting the wrong people. Or, setting goals and failing at the same point every time.

The other types of mistakes are related to ethics and morals. Take, for example, the prison population. The aim of prison is to ultimately reintegrate the offenders into society. For this, prisoners must be aware of their transgressions, repent of them, and return to society.

When it comes to prisoners, learning from their mistakes involves empathizing with the damage they caused and defending other types of values. Those that are more humane, ethical, and respectful. Although, as we well know, many of those who’ve been to jail may end up back there sooner or later. Why does this happen? Why don’t these people learn from their mistakes?

Guilt and shame

Something that we’ve all felt at some point when we’ve made a mistake is shame. Moreover, if our failure also causes harm to others, we’ll feel a strong sense of guilt.

These emotions play a crucial role in human behavior. They help us to make amends, to want to solve things or do them in another way so that we don’t feel this way again. What’s more, on the next occasion, we want everything to turn out better, for the good of both ourselves and others.

One of the reasons some people don’t learn from their mistakes is because they lack these emotions. This was demonstrated in a study conducted by George Mason University (USA) in 2014. The researchers interviewed 500 convicted prisoners and noticed that there were two types of profiles.

First, were those who felt guilty and improved when on probation. Second were those who evaded their responsibility and focused the blame on the circumstances, on external factors.

Girl with a lost look

The A1 mutation

Tilmann Klein and Dr. Markus Ullsperger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, claim to know why people don’t learn from their mistakes. They state that the origin is genetic. More specifically, as a result of what they defined as the A1 mutation.

  • This mutation reduces the number of D2 receptors in the brain. These are dopamine receptors.
  • What implication does this have? We must first understand what role dopamine plays. In fact, it favors learning, motivation, reward, and the sensations of pleasure, among other functions.
  • If all of these dimensions fail or work at a minimum level, there’ll be no motivation to correct mistakes, improve ourselves, or take on new learning.

This is certainly a curious suggestion that’s well worth taking into account. In fact, it suggests that the inability to learn from failure has a cerebral origin.

Blaming others

There are far too many people who disregard all responsibility and place it on the shoulders of others. It’s common behavior. However, it’s also the purest reflection of irresponsibility and immaturity.

Of course, it’s always easier to blame others or assume that fate has intervened. If we fail in business it’s because the economy is struggling. If we’ve started a relationship with another narcissist, it’s because the world’s full of them. We’re not responsible for anything!

As a matter of fact, these types of situations are far more common than we might think. Nevertheless, there can be few things more relevant in our lives than detecting our mistakes, taking responsibility for them, and having the courage, intelligence and sensitivity to accept them and resolve them.

Doing so not only dignifies us but also favors human growth.

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  • Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. M., Heatherton, T. F. (1994). Guilt: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 243267.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.