Task-relevant and task-irrelevant choices differentially impact error estimation and motor learning

  • Zachary D Yantha School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa
  • Michael J Carter Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen's University
  • Diane M Ste-Marie School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa


Learning is enhanced when learners exercise choice over task-relevant features (e.g., feedback schedule) compared to when the opportunity for choice is denied. Lewthwaite et al. (2015) showed that learning is also enhanced with choice over aspects irrelevant to the to-be-learned motor task (e.g., ball colour [Exp 1] and artwork selection [Exp 2]). Lewthwaite and colleagues argued that such choices could not be used in a way to benefit task-related processes and therefore, the learning benefits from choice must be motivational in nature. However, other researchers have provided evidence that task-related processes such as error estimation play a role in the learning benefits associated with choice; which makes one question the extent to which choice over task-relevant features compares to choice over irrelevant features. These results extend from Carter et al. (2016) by investigating how different levels of choice affected error estimation and motor learning. Participants practiced a waveform matching task in one of three choice groups: Task-Relevant (feedback schedule), Task-Irrelevant (colour of arm wrap and game to play once the experiment was over), and No-Choice. The Task-Irrelevant and No-Choice groups were matched to the feedback schedule of a participant in the Task-Relevant group. Results showed that the Task-Relevant group demonstrated superior retention and transfer performance, as well as superior error estimation abilities in transfer (P's < .05). Contrary to the motivation-based conclusions of Lewthwaite and colleagues, our findings suggest that task-relevant choices are more effective for learning than task-irrelevant choices, presumably due to the acquisition of accurate error estimation abilities.