Reward disrupts reactivated human skill memory

Eran Dayan, Rony Laor-Maayany, Nitzan Censor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Accumulating evidence across species and memory domains shows that when an existing memory is reactivated, it becomes susceptible to modifications. However, the potential role of reward signals in these mechanisms underlying human memory dynamics is unknown. Leaning on a wealth of findings on the role of reward in reinforcing memory, we tested the impact of reinforcing a skill memory trace with monetary reward following memory reactivation, on strengthening of the memory trace. Reinforcing reactivated memories did not strengthen the memory, but rather led to disruption of the memory trace, breaking down the link between memory reactivation and subsequent memory strength. Statistical modeling further revealed a strong mediating role for memory reactivation in linking between memory encoding and subsequent memory strength only when the memory was replayed without reinforcement. We suggest that, rather than reinforcing the existing memory trace, reward creates a competing memory trace, impairing expression of the original reward-free memory. This mechanism sheds light on the processes underlying skill acquisition, having wide translational implications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28270
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - 16 Jun 2016


FundersFunder number
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Israel Science Foundation51/11
Israeli Centers for Research Excellence


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