The contribution of explicit processes to reinforcement-based motor learning

Peter James Holland, Olivier Codol, Joseph M. Galea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
177 Downloads (Pure)


Despite increasing interest in the role of reward in motor learning, the underlying mechanisms remain ill-defined. In particular, the contribution of explicit processes to reward-based motor learning is unclear. To address this, we examined subject's (n=30) ability to learn to compensate for a gradually introduced 25⁰ visuomotor rotation with only reward-based feedback (binary success/failure). Only two-thirds of subjects (n=20) were successful at the maximum angle. The remaining subjects initially followed the rotation but after a variable number of trials began to reach at an insufficiently large angle and subsequently returned to near baseline performance (n=10). Furthermore, those that were successful accomplished this largely via a large explicit component, evidenced by a reduction in reach angle when asked to remove any strategy they employed. However, both groups displayed a small degree of remaining retention even after the removal of this explicit component. All subjects made greater and more variable changes in reach angle following incorrect (unrewarded) trials. However, subjects who failed to learn showed decreased sensitivity to errors, even in the initial period in which they followed the rotation, a pattern previously found in Parkinsonian patients. In a second experiment, the addition of a secondary mental rotation task completely abolished learning (n=10), whilst a control group replicated the results of the first experiment (n=10). These results emphasize a pivotal role of explicit processes during reinforcement-based motor learning, and the susceptibility of this form of learning to disruption has important implications for its potential therapeutic benefits.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Mar 2018


  • Journal Article
  • motor learning
  • reward
  • strategies
  • visuomotor adaptation


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