Punishment Feedback Impairs Memory and Changes Cortical Feedback-Related Potentials During Motor Learning

Publication Title

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience



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Reward and punishment have demonstrated dissociable effects on motor learning and memory, which suggests that these reinforcers are differently processed by the brain. To test this possibility, we use electroencephalography to record cortical neural activity after the presentation of reward and punishment feedback during a visuomotor rotation task. Participants were randomly placed into Reward, Punishment, or Control groups and performed the task under different conditions to assess the adaptation (learning) and retention (memory) of the motor task. These conditions featured an incongruent position between the cursor and the target, with the cursor trajectory, rotated 30° counterclockwise, requiring the participant to adapt their movement to hit the target. Feedback based on error magnitude was provided during the Adaptation condition in the form of a positive number (Reward) or negative number (Punishment), each representing a monetary gain or loss, respectively. No reinforcement or visual feedback was provided during the No Vision condition (retention). Performance error and event-related potentials (ERPs) time-locked to feedback presentation were calculated for each participant during both conditions. Punishment feedback reduced performance error and promoted faster learning during the Adaptation condition. In contrast, punishment feedback increased performance error during the No Vision condition compared to Control and Reward groups, which suggests a diminished motor memory. Moreover, the Punishment group showed a significant decrease in the amplitude of ERPs during the No Vision condition compared to the Adaptation condition. The amplitude of ERPs did not change in the other two groups. These results suggest that punishment feedback impairs motor retention by altering the neural processing involved in memory encoding. This study provides a neurophysiological underpinning for the dissociative effects of punishment feedback on motor learning.

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cortical potentials, EEG, motor learning, motor retention, reinforcement feedback


Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE)