• The Eighty Five Percent Rule applied to a multilayered neural network. Test accuracy vs training error rate on the MNIST dataset for the a Parity and b Magnitude tasks for 1000 different simulations. In both cases the test accuracy peaks at or near the optimal error rate. Each color corresponds to a different target training accuracy.

  • Learning is Optimized When We Fail 15% of the Time

    Courtesy of University Communications, University of Arizona


    To learn new things, we must sometimes fail. But what's the right amount of failure? 

    Educators and educational scholars have long recognized that there is something of a "sweet spot" when it comes to learning. That is, we learn best when we are challenged to grasp something just outside the bounds of our existing knowledge. When a challenge is too simple, we don't learn anything new; likewise, we don't enhance our knowledge when a challenge is so difficult that we fail entirely or give up.

    So where does the sweet spot lie? According to the new study in the journal Nature Communications, it's when failure occurs 15% of the time. Put another way, it's when the right answer is given 85% of the time.

    Collaborators at Brown University, the University of California, Los Angeles and Princeton came up with the so-called "85% Rule" after conducting a series of machine-learning experiments in which they taught computers simple tasks, such as classifying different patterns into one of two categories or classifying photographs of handwritten digits as odd versus even numbers, or low versus high numbers.

    The computers learned fastest in situations in which the difficulty was such that they responded with 85% accuracy.

    The full listing of authors and their affiliations for this paper is as follows: Robert C. Wilson: University of Arizona, Amitai Shenhav: Brown University, Mark Straccia: UCLA, Jonathan D. Cohen: Princeton University

    This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to J.D.C., a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant P20GM103645 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to A.S., and National Institute on Aging grant R56 AG061888 to R.C.W.

    Read More:
    The Eighty Five Percent Rule for optimal learning