Facilitating transfer through incorrect examples and explanatory feedback

Daniel Corral, Shana K. Carpenter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This article examines whether studying correct versus incorrect examples produces differential learning. A prediction that follows from behaviourism is that learning should be best from studying correct examples. A contrasting prediction is that incorrect examples can highlight a concept’s properties that are missing in the example, and thereby enable concept learning. We test these ideas across two experiments, wherein subjects were shown hypothetical study scenarios and were asked to determine whether each was a true experiment. In Experiment 1, some subjects were only presented correct examples, some were only presented incorrect examples, and others were presented both. In addition, example type was crossed with feedback type: Some subjects were given explanatory feedback and some were not given any feedback; a control condition was also included, wherein subjects were not shown any study scenarios. All subjects completed a posttest involving novel scenarios; some questions asked subjects to indicate whether they were true experiments (classification questions), and some asked them to specify what was lacking in the design or to indicate how it could be fixed (application questions). Experiment 2 used a similar design, but compared explanatory feedback with corrective feedback. In both experiments, as long as some form of feedback was provided, subjects in the mixed example condition achieved the best classification performance. Furthermore, subjects in the incorrect and mixed example conditions performed best on application questions, particularly when explanatory feedback was provided. These findings offer insights into the mechanisms that might underlie learning from incorrect examples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1340-1359
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Correct and incorrect examples
  • complex concept learning
  • comprehension
  • explanatory feedback
  • transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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