AbstractResearch has suggested that punishment and reward feedback have dissociable effects on performance and retention, respectively (Galea et al. 2015). Others have suggested a more reliable effect of punishment while failing to replicate the retention benefit of reward (Steel et al. 2016). This discrepancy across experiments may be the result of seemingly innocuous methodological differences. Here we ran a pre-registered, online experiment to test the replicability of the supposed dissociable effects of punishment and reward feedback on motor learning. Participants (N = 202) were randomly assigned to receive either punishment or reward feedback during practice as they learned a repeating 12-element sequence in a serial response time task. Participants in the Punishment group saw a red box flash on their computer screen if they pressed the wrong key or their response time was slower than their median response time of the previous block. Participants in the Reward group saw a green box flash if their response time was faster than their median response time of the previous block and they pressed the correct key. Unbeknownst to the participants, feedback trials were associated with a loss (Punishment group) or gain (Reward group) of points. Both groups significantly improved their performance across practice blocks. However, we failed to replicate previous effects of punishment and reward feedback as we found no significant group differences in the practice period, the same-day retention, or the next-day retention. Our data instead suggest that punishment and reward feedback may both be effective for performance and retention.
Acknowledgments: NSERC; SSHRC