The Role of Reward Prediction in the Control of Attention
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Previously rewarded stimuli involuntarily capture attention. The learning mechanisms underlying this value-driven attentional capture remain less understood. We tested whether theories of prediction-based associative reward learning explain the conditions under which reward feedback leads to value-based modulations of attentional priority. Across 4 experiments, we manipulated whether stimulus features served as unique predictors of reward outcomes. Participants received monetary rewards for correctly identifying a color-defined target in an initial search task (training phase) and then immediately completed a second, unrewarded visual search task in which color was irrelevant (test phase). In Experiments 1-3, monetary reward followed correct target selection during training, but critically, no target-defining features carried uniquely predictive information about reward outcomes. Under these conditions, we found no evidence of attentional capture by the previous target colors in the subsequent test phase. Conversely, when target colors in the training phase of Experiment 4 carried uniquely predictive information about reward magnitude, we observed significant attentional capture by the previously rewarded color. Our findings show that value-based attentional priority only develops for stimulus features that carry uniquely predictive information about reward, ruling out a purely motivational account and suggesting that mechanisms of reward prediction play an important role in shaping attentional priorities.
author list (cited authors)
Sali, A. W., Anderson, B. A., & Yantis, S.