The impact of combining punishment and reward feedback through transition schedules on performance and learning


Punishment and reward feedback have been argued to have dissociable effects on performance and retention, respectively (Galea et al. 2015). Others have found an advantage of punishment feedback on practice performance but no differences in retention (Steel et al. 2016). In these experiments participants received only punishment or reward feedback; thus, receiving punishment and reward feedback at different points in practice may benefit both performance and retention. According to the coaching literature, learners should transition from reward-to-punishment feedback. However, transitioning from punishment-to-reward may be most effective based on the motor learning literature. Here we tested between these predictions about feedback order using traditional and robust statistical methods in a sequential analysis design (Wald, 1945). Participants (N = 68) practiced an online serial response time task and were randomly assigned to either the reward-to-punishment group or the punishment-to-reward group. Feedback was only provided during practice and the switch in feedback occurred halfway through practice for both groups. We found that response time decreased significantly in both groups during practice. We did not find an effect of feedback order in either the practice phase, the same-day retention test, or the next-day retention test. Given these results for feedback order, we tested for equivalence using our pre-registered smallest effect size of interest. The non-significant equivalence test indicated that these findings remain inconclusive. Overall, we did not find evidence favouring either the coaching literature or the motor learning literature with respect to the order of receiving both punishment and reward feedback during practice.

Acknowledgments: NSERC