The effect of false positive feedback on learning an inhibitory-action task in older adults

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Background/Study Context: Older adults show a greater response to feedback whilst learning than younger adults. To date this has only been shown for receiving veridical feedback, but there is evidence that suggests that receiving false positive feedback may further enhance learning. We tested the hypothesis that receiving false positive feedback, being told you are preforming better than expected, would be more advantageous for older than younger adults when learning an inhibitory-action task.
Methods: 42 younger and 34 older adults trained to improve their inhibition and response times on the Simon task. They completed 18 training blocks and a retention test two weeks after training. Participants received either false positive feedback or veridical feedback on their performance at the end of each training session and the start of the next session. Those in the false positive feedback group were told they were performing faster than expected.
Results: Both older and younger adults improved their inhibition and response times but receiving false positive feedback did not significantly change their rate of learning on these outcomes. However, false positive feedback did impact on accuracy levels with those receiving this type of feedback making fewer errors. Older adults were slower but more accurate than younger adults, but contrary to our hypothesis they did not benefit more from false positive feedback than younger adults.
Conclusion: This first direct comparison of the effects of false positive feedback on older and younger adults showed that the positive impact of false positive feedback does not decline with age. We also demonstrated that feedback given about one aspect of a skill (in this case speed) may in fact influence another aspect of the skill (in this case accuracy). This suggests that false positive feedback could be used as a motivational tool to enhance cognitive-motor learning in older adults, but care needs to be taken when using this, as the feedback may not affect the element of the skill at which it is targeted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-356
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2019


  • older adults
  • false positive feedback
  • younger adults
  • learning
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