How does the attention system learn from aversive outcomes? Academic Article uri icon


  • Learning about aversive outcomes plays a role in the guidance of attention. Classical conditioning generates a bias to predictors of aversive outcomes, whereas instrumental learning potentiates a negatively reinforced avoidance behavior, which can be difficult to dissociate in the case of attention to aversively conditioned stimuli. The present study examined the relative contribution from these two learning processes to the control of attention. Participants were first provided an opportunity to avoid an electric shock by generating a saccade in the direction opposite one of two stimuli. In contradiction to the practiced avoidance behavior, such training resulted in a bias to orient toward the shock-associated stimulus, indicative of a more dominant role of classical conditioning in the control of attention. The findings are in parallel with the influence of positive reinforcement on attention, suggesting that the attention system may be guided by motivational relevance rather than a particular emotional valence. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

published proceedings

  • Emotion

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Kim, H., & Anderson, B. A.

citation count

  • 13

complete list of authors

  • Kim, Haena||Anderson, Brian A

publication date

  • June 2021