In humans, training in which good performance is rewarded or bad performance punished results in transient behavioral improvements. The relative effects of reward and punishment on consolidation and long-term retention, critical behavioral stages for successful learning, are not known. Here, we investigated the effects of reward and punishment on these different stages of human motor skill learning. We studied healthy subjects who trained on a motor task under rewarded, punished, or neutral control conditions. Performance was tested before and immediately, 6 hr, 24 hr, and 30 days after training in the absence of reward or punishment. Performance improvements immediately after training were comparable in the three groups. At 6 hr, the rewarded group maintained performance gains, whereas the other two groups experienced significant forgetting. At 24 hr, the reward group showed significant offline (posttraining) improvements, whereas the other two groups did not. At 30 days, the rewarded group retained the gains identified at 24 hr, whereas the other two groups experienced significant forgetting. We conclude that training under rewarded conditions is more effective than training under punished or neutral conditions in eliciting lasting motor learning, an advantage driven by offline memory gains that persist over time.
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