Intention to learn modulates the impact of reward and punishment on sequence learning.
Steel A., Baker CI., Stagg CJ.
In real-world settings, learning is often characterised as intentional: learners are aware of the goal during the learning process, and the goal of learning is readily dissociable from the awareness of what is learned. Recent evidence has shown that reward and punishment (collectively referred to as valenced feedback) are important factors that influence performance during learning. Presently, however, studies investigating the impact of valenced feedback on skill learning have only considered unintentional learning, and therefore the interaction between intentionality and valenced feedback has not been systematically examined. The present study investigated how reward and punishment impact behavioural performance when participants are instructed to learn in a goal-directed fashion (i.e. intentionally) rather than unintentionally. In Experiment 1, participants performed the serial response time task with reward, punishment, or control feedback and were instructed to ignore the presence of the sequence, i.e., learn unintentionally. Experiment 2 followed the same design, but participants were instructed to intentionally learn the sequence. We found that punishment significantly benefitted performance during learning only when participants learned unintentionally, and we observed no effect of punishment when participants learned intentionally. Thus, the impact of feedback on performance may be influenced by goal of the learner.