The dissociable effects of punishment and reward on motor learning

Nat Neurosci. 2015 Apr;18(4):597-602. doi: 10.1038/nn.3956. Epub 2015 Feb 23.


A common assumption regarding error-based motor learning (motor adaptation) in humans is that its underlying mechanism is automatic and insensitive to reward- or punishment-based feedback. Contrary to this hypothesis, we show in a double dissociation that the two have independent effects on the learning and retention components of motor adaptation. Negative feedback, whether graded or binary, accelerated learning. While it was not necessary for the negative feedback to be coupled to monetary loss, it had to be clearly related to the actual performance on the preceding movement. Positive feedback did not speed up learning, but it increased retention of the motor memory when performance feedback was withdrawn. These findings reinforce the view that independent mechanisms underpin learning and retention in motor adaptation, reject the assumption that motor adaptation is independent of motivational feedback, and raise new questions regarding the neural basis of negative and positive motivational feedback in motor learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Punishment
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Reward
  • Young Adult