The relationship between reinforcement and explicit control during visuomotor adaptation

Sci Rep. 2018 Jun 14;8(1):9121. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-27378-1.


The motor system's ability to adapt to environmental changes is essential for maintaining accurate movements. Such adaptation recruits several distinct systems: cerebellar sensory-prediction error learning, success-based reinforcement, and explicit control. Although much work has focused on the relationship between cerebellar learning and explicit control, there is little research regarding how reinforcement and explicit control interact. To address this, participants first learnt a 20° visuomotor displacement. After reaching asymptotic performance, binary, hit-or-miss feedback (BF) was introduced either with or without visual feedback, the latter promoting reinforcement. Subsequently, retention was assessed using no-feedback trials, with half of the participants in each group being instructed to stop aiming off target. Although BF led to an increase in retention of the visuomotor displacement, instructing participants to stop re-aiming nullified this effect, suggesting explicit control is critical to BF-based reinforcement. In a second experiment, we prevented the expression or development of explicit control during BF performance, by either constraining participants to a short preparation time (expression) or by introducing the displacement gradually (development). Both manipulations strongly impaired BF performance, suggesting reinforcement requires both recruitment and expression of an explicit component. These results emphasise the pivotal role explicit control plays in reinforcement-based motor learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*