Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Exercise Science

First Advisor

Jill C. Stewart


Positive social comparative feedback indicates to the learner that they are performing better than others. While this type feedback supports motor skill learning in some tasks, the effect of social comparative feedback on motor sequence learning remains unknown. In addition, the OPTIMAL theory predicts that positive social comparative feedback may trigger a dopaminergic response in the brain. However, no studies have utilized neuroimaging techniques to investigate this question. Therefore, the aim of these studies was to determine the effect of positive social comparative feedback on motor sequence learning, performance expectancies, and resting state connectivity of dopaminergic neural pathways.

In the first study, forty-eight individuals practiced a joystick-based sequence task and were divided into three feedback groups: CONTROL (no performance feedback), RT ONLY (response time only feedback), and RT+POS (response time plus positive social comparison). Participants attended sessions on two consecutive days: Day 1 for motor skill acquisition and Day 2 for retention testing. Performance related expectancies were measured before and after motor practice and at retention. The RT+POS and CONTROL group showed better overall performance/learning compared with the RT ONLY group. However, the RT+POS showed the highest peak velocities, and the CONTOL group showed the shortest path distances. Overall, the RT+POS and CONTROL showed increases in perceived competence while the RT ONLY group did not. The results of this study suggest that feedback content is an important consideration during motor practice, since feedback without social context (RT ONLY) was detrimental, and since feedback may be leveraged to bias motor practice towards higher movement speeds versus spatial accuracy.

In the second study, thirty individuals practiced the same motor task and were divided into two feedback groups: RT ONLY and RT+POS. The study protocol was similar, with magnetic resonance imaging added before and after motor practice. The RT+POS group showed an increase in functional connectivity between the ventral tegmental area and the left nucleus accumbens, brain regions along the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. The RT+POS group showed better overall performance than the RT ONLY group at acquisition. Similar to the first study, the RT+POS showed higher peak velocities than the RT ONLY group. Overall, both groups showed increases in performance expectancies that were not different by group. The results of the brain connectivity analysis support the OPTIMAL theory prediction that positive social comparative feedback may trigger a dopaminergic response in the brain.


© 2022, Allison Foster Lewis