Selection history in context: Evidence for the role of reinforcement learning in biasing attention.
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Attention is biased towards learned predictors of reward. The influence of reward history on attentional capture has been shown to be context-specific: When particular stimulus features are associated with reward, these features only capture attention when viewed in the context in which they were rewarded. Selection history can also bias attention, such that prior target features gain priority independently of reward history. The contextual specificity of this influence of selection history on attention has not been examined. In the present study, we demonstrate that the consequences of repetitive selection on attention robustly generalize across context, such that prior target features capture attention even in contexts in which they were never seen previously. Our findings suggest that the learning underlying attention driven by outcome-independent selection history differs qualitatively from the learning underlying value-driven attention, consistent with a distinction between associative and reinforcement learning mechanisms.