Differential motor learning via reward and punishment

Yanlong Song, Siyuan Lu, Ann L. Smiley-Oyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Visuomotor adaptation involves multiple processes such as explicit learning, implicit learning from sensory prediction errors, and model-free mechanisms like use-dependent plasticity. Recent findings show that reward and punishment differently affect visuomotor adaptation. This study examined whether punishment and reward had distinct effects on explicit learning. When participants practised adapting to a large, abrupt visual rotation during reaching for a virtual visual target, visual feedback of the cursor was not provided. Only performance-based scalar reward or punishment feedback (money gained or lost) was used, thereby emphasising explicit processes during adaptation. The results revealed that punishment, compared with reward, induced faster adaptation and greater variability of reaching in the initial phase of adaptation. We interpret these findings as reflecting enhanced explicit learning, likely due to loss aversion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • explicit learning
  • punishment
  • Reward
  • visuomotor adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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