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:

How 'The Gruffalo' helped academics boost youngsters' motor skills and language ability
Combining movement and storytelling activities boosts pre-school children's key motor skills and language ability, according to Coventry University experts who used bestselling book 'The Gruffalo' during their research.
Chemicals used to combat Zika, agricultural pests impact motor skills in infants
A chemical currently being used to ward off mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus and a commonly used insecticide that was threatened with a ban in the United States have been associated with reduced motor function in Chinese infants, a University of Michigan study found.
Locked movement in molecular motor and rotor
For a motor to power machinery, the local motion has to be translated into the ordered movement of other parts of the system.
How nature engineered the original rotary motor
To function properly and propel the bacterium, the flagellum requires all of its components to fit together to exacting measurements.
Molecular motor-powered biocomputers
A five-year, €6.1 million EU-Horizon 2020 project aims to build a new type of powerful computer based on biomolecules.
Could a diabetes drug be used for Motor Neurone Disease?
A diabetes drug could one day be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
New insights into the information processing of motor neurons
Scientists at Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience are working to understand how neurons in the cerebellum, a region in the back of the brain that controls movement, interact with each other.
Motor cortex contributes to word comprehension
Researchers from HSE, Northumbria University, and Aarhus University have experimentally confirmed the hypothesis, whereby comprehension of a word's meaning involves not only the 'classic' language brain centers but also the cortical regions responsible for the control of body muscles, such as hand movements.
Genetic 'switch' in animals offers clues to evolutionary origins of fine motor skills
Researchers have identified a genetic signature found exclusively in the nerve cells that supply, or innervate, the muscles of an organism's outermost extremities: the hands and feet.
Girls with poorer motor skills more likely than boys to be obese
Young girls who exhibit a poor mastery of fundamental movement skills (FMS) are more likely to be obese than boys who have similarly low skills, according to research led by Coventry University.

Related Motor Skills Reading:

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

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...