Motivation to Avoid Loss Improves Implicit Skill Performance

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Abstract

Implicit learning reflects learning from experience that occurs without intention or awareness of the information acquired and is hypothesized to contribute to skill acquisition by improving performance with practice. The role of motivation has not been examined because this kind of memory is represented outside awareness. We manipulated motivation (approach/avoidance) and type of feedback (positive/negative) to measure how these affected a well-studied task of implicit sequence learning. Across 2 experiments, we found a consistent effect that motivation to avoid loss led to much higher levels of sequence-specific task performance. When the motivation manipulation was removed, performance fell to typical levels, indicating that motivation enhanced knowledge expression through performance, not learning. Even though implicit skill knowledge is represented outside awareness, our ability to apply this knowledge is enhanced when motivated by fear of loss, potentially providing insight into the value of coaching/training practices that motivate performers in this manner.

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