The attention habit: how reward learning shapes attentional selection
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There is growing consensus that reward plays an important role in the control of attention. Until recently, reward was thought to influence attention indirectly by modulating task-specific motivation and its effects on voluntary control over selection. Such an account was consistent with the goal-directed (endogenous) versus stimulus-driven (exogenous) framework that had long dominated the field of attention research. Now, a different perspective is emerging. Demonstrations that previously reward-associated stimuli can automatically capture attention even when physically inconspicuous and task-irrelevant challenge previously held assumptions about attentional control. The idea that attentional selection can be value driven, reflecting a distinct and previously unrecognized control mechanism, has gained traction. Since these early demonstrations, the influence of reward learning on attention has rapidly become an area of intense investigation, sparking many new insights. The result is an emerging picture of how the reward system of the brain automatically biases information processing. Here, I review the progress that has been made in this area, synthesizing a wealth of recent evidence to provide an integrated, up-to-date account of value-driven attention and some of its broader implications.
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