Nav: Home

Magnifying mistakes boosts motor skills past a performance plateau

August 04, 2016

Exaggerating the visual appearance of mistakes could help people further improve their motor skills after an initial performance peak, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology.

Previous research has shown that manipulating the perception of mistakes can improve motor skills. Dagmar Sternad, Christopher Hasson and colleagues from Northeastern University in Boston and Hokkaido University in Japan set out to examine whether this strategy could further enhance skills after they plateau.

In the study, 42 healthy participants learned a virtual tetherball-like game in which they tried to hit a target with a ball hanging from a pole. After three days, all players reached a performance plateau. Then, for some players, the researchers secretly manipulated the game so that the distance by which the ball missed the target appeared bigger on screen than it actually was.

Participants whose mistakes appeared at least twice as bad as they really were broke past their plateau and continued sharpening their tetherball skills. A control group that remained undeceived showed negligible improvement.

By analyzing the players' actions using computational learning models, the researchers found that error exaggeration did not change how they made corrections in their throwing techniques. Instead, it reduced random fluctuations, or noise, in nervous system signals that control muscle movement. These findings challenge existing assumptions that such noise cannot be reduced.

The authors point out that their results could help improve strategies to aid people who have reached a motor skills plateau, including elite athletes, healthy elders, stroke patients, and children with dystonia. Future research could reveal the physiological mechanisms underlying the findings.
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Computational Biology: pcbi.1005044

Press-only preview:

Contact: Name: Christopher J. Hasson


Citation: Hasson CJ, Zhang Z, Abe MO, Sternad D (2016) Neuromotor Noise Is Malleable by Amplifying Perceived Errors. PLoS Comput Biol 12(8): e1005044. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005044

Image Caption: Virtual tetherball shows that reducing neural "noise" could help sharpen motor skills

Image Credit: Meridican / Flickr

Image Link:

Funding: This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) R01 HD045639, National Institute on Aging (NIA) 1F32 AR061238, National Science Foundation NSF-DMS 0928587, and the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (W5J9CQ-12-C-0046). DS was also supported by a visiting scientist appointment at the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding organizations. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

About PLOS Computational Biology

PLOS Computational Biology features works of exceptional significance that further our understanding of living systems at all scales through the application of computational methods. For more information follow @PLOSCompBiol on Twitter or contact

Media and Copyright Information For information about PLOS Computational Biology relevant to journalists, bloggers and press officers, including details of our press release process and embargo policy, visit .

PLOS Journals publish under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits free reuse of all materials published with the article, so long as the work is cited.

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) PLOS is a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization founded to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. For more information, visit


This press release refers to upcoming articles in PLOS Computational Biology. The releases have been provided by the article authors and/or journal staff. Any opinions expressed in these are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLOS. PLOS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.


Related Motor Skills Articles:

Poor motor skills predict long-term language impairments for children with autism
Fine motor skills - used for eating, writing and buttoning clothing - may be a strong predictor for identifying whether children with autism are at risk for long-term language disabilities, according to a Rutgers-led study.
How your brain remembers motor sequences
Researchers at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), Japan, and Western University, Canada, have succeeded in visualizing how information is represented in a widespread area in the human cerebral cortex during a performance of skilled finger movement sequences.
Take a break! Brain stimulation improves motor learning
In a joint study, Jost-Julian Rumpf from the University of Leipzig and Gesa Hartwigsen from MPI CBS suggest the process of motor learning probably already begins during short interruptions of practice.
Tiny motor can 'walk' to carry out tasks
MIT researchers have assembled microrobots from a small set of standardized components, as a step toward self-replicating systems.
Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.
More Motor Skills News and Motor Skills Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...