A value-driven mechanism of attentional selection
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Attention selects stimuli for cognitive processing, and the mechanisms that underlie the process of attentional selection have been a major topic of psychological research for over 30 years. From this research, it has been well documented that attentional selection can proceed both voluntarily, driven by visual search goals, and involuntarily, driven by the physical salience of stimuli. In this review, I provide a conceptual framework for attentional control that emphasizes the need for stimulus selection to promote the survival and wellbeing of an organism. I argue that although goal-driven and salience-driven mechanisms of attentional selection fit within this framework, a central component that is missing is a mechanism of attentional selection that is uniquely driven by learned associations between stimuli and rewards. I go on to review recent evidence for such a value-driven mechanism of attentional selection, and describe how this mechanism functions independently of the well-documented salience-driven and goal-driven mechanisms. I conclude by arguing that reward learning modifies the attentional priority of stimuli, allowing them to compete more effectively for selection even when nonsalient and task-irrelevant.
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