Primary rewards and aversive outcomes have comparable effects on attentional bias. Academic Article uri icon


  • Attention is biased toward stimuli previously associated with reward. The same is true for aversive conditioning; stimuli previously associated with an aversive outcome also bias attention, suggesting that motivational salience guides attention. Most research that supports this conclusion has manipulated monetary gain-a secondary reinforcer-for reward learning, and electric shocks-a primary punisher-for aversive conditioning, making it difficult to directly compare their influence on attention. Therefore, in the present study, we matched for reinforcer dimensions by using primary taste as reinforcers/punishers and assessed their influence on attention. In a training phase, participants learned to associate three colors with sweet juice (reward), salt water (aversive), and no outcome (neutral), respectively. The two primary reinforcers were equated for valence based on choices made in a prior decision-making task. In a later test phase, these three colors were used for targets and distractors in a task in which participants oriented to a shape-defined target. An attentional bias in favor of the aversively conditioned and reward-associated colors was evident when comparing to the neutral color. Importantly, a direct comparison of rewarded and aversive stimuli revealed no significant differences. These results suggest that when matched for reinforcer dimensions and valence, reward and aversive outcomes bias attention in a similar manner and their effects are comparable, providing further evidence in support of the motivational salience account of learning-dependent attention. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

published proceedings

  • Behav Neurosci

author list (cited authors)

  • Kim, H., & Anderson, B. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Kim, Haena||Anderson, Brian A

publication date

  • April 2023