Reward learning biases the direction of saccades. Academic Article uri icon


  • The role of associative reward learning in guiding feature-based attention and spatial attention is well established. However, no studies have looked at the extent to which reward learning can modulate the direction of saccades during visual search. Here, we introduced a novel reward learning paradigm to examine whether reward-associated directions of eye movements can modulate performance in different visual search tasks. Participants had to fixate a peripheral target before fixating one of four disks that subsequently appeared in each cardinal position. This was followed by reward feedback contingent upon the direction chosen, where one direction consistently yielded a high reward. Thus, reward was tied to the direction of saccades rather than the absolute location of the stimulus fixated. Participants selected the target in the high-value direction on the majority of trials, demonstrating robust learning of the task contingencies. In an untimed visual foraging task that followed, which was performed in extinction, initial saccades were reliably biased in the previously rewarded-associated direction. In a second experiment, following the same training procedure, eye movements in the previously high-value direction were facilitated in a saccade-to-target task. Our findings suggest that rewarding directional eye movements biases oculomotor search patterns in a manner that is robust to extinction and generalizes across stimuli and task.

published proceedings

  • Cognition

altmetric score

  • 0.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Liao, M., & Anderson, B. A.

citation count

  • 12

complete list of authors

  • Liao, Ming-Ray||Anderson, Brian A

publication date

  • March 2020