Post-error slowing: Large scale study in an online learning environment for practising mathematics and language

Susanne M. M. de Mooij, Iroise Dumontheil, Natasha Z. Kirkham, Maartje E. J. Raijmakers, Han L. J. van der Maas

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The ability to monitor and adjust our performance is crucial for adaptive behaviour, a key component of human cognitive control. One widely studied metric of this behaviour is post-error slowing (PES), the finding that humans tend to slow down their performance after making an error. This study is a first attempt at generalizing the effect of PES to an online adaptive learning environment where children practise mathematics and language skills. This population was of particular interest since the major development of error processing occurs during childhood. Eight million response patterns were collected from 150,000 users aged 5 to 13 years old for 6 months, across 23 different learning activities. PES could be observed in most learning activities and greater PES was associated with greater post-error accuracy. PES also varied as a function of several variables. At the task level, PES was greater when there was less time pressure, when errors were slower, and in learning activities focusing on mathematical rather than language skills. At the individual level, students who chose the most difficult level to practise and had higher skill ability also showed greater PES. Finally, non-linear developmental differences in error processing were found, where the PES magnitude increased from 6 to 9-years-old and decreased from 9 to 13. This study shows that PES underlies adaptive behaviour in an educational context for primary school students.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13174
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number2
Early online date7 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • adaptive behaviour
  • educational games
  • online learning environment
  • post-error slowing


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