Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Irrelevant Reward and Selection Histories Have Different Influences on Task-Relevant Attentional Selection

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Irrelevant Reward and Selection Histories Have Different Influences on Task-Relevant Attentional Selection

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 March 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Task-relevant and physically salient features influence visual selective attention. In the present study, we investigated the influence of task-irrelevant and physically nonsalient reward-associated features on visual selective attention. Two hypotheses were tested: One predicts that the effects of target-defining task-relevant and task-irrelevant features interact to modulate visual selection; the other predicts that visual selection is determined by the independent combination of relevant and irrelevant feature effects. These alternatives were tested using a visual search task that contained multiple targets, placing a high demand on the need for selectivity, and that was data-limited and required unspeeded responses, emphasizing early perceptual selection processes. One week prior to the visual search task, participants completed a training task in which they learned to associate particular colors with a specific reward value. In the search task, the reward-associated colors were presented surrounding targets and distractors, but were neither physically salient nor task-relevant. In two experiments, the irrelevant reward-associated features influenced performance, but only when they were presented in a task-relevant location. The costs induced by the irrelevant reward-associated features were greater when they oriented attention to a target than to a distractor. In a third experiment, we examined the effects of selection history in the absence of reward history and found that the interaction between task relevance and selection history differed, relative to when the features had previously been associated with reward. The results indicate that under conditions that demand highly efficient perceptual selection, physically nonsalient task-irrelevant and task-relevant factors interact to influence visual selective attention.

Keywords Selective attention . Attentional capture . Reward

Many accounts of selective attention have proposed that information-processing priorities are driven by the current task demands, goals, stimulus salience, or some combination thereof (e.g., Bundesen, 1990; Corbetta & Shulman, 2002; Desimone & Duncan, 1995; Itti & Koch, 2001). However, recognition is growing that these explanations do not sufficiently account for the range of influences on selective attention (Anderson, 2013;Awh,Belopolsky,&Theeuwes,2012). For example, task switching (see Monsell, 2003) and intertrial priming (e.g., Belopolsky, Schreij, & Theeuwes, 2010;Folk& Remington, 2008; Sy, Elliott, & Giesbrecht, 2013;Theeuwes, Kramer, & Belopolsky, 2004) influence selective attention, suggesting that selection history is an important factor when setting priorities for selective information processing (Awh et al., 2012). Other evidence demonstrating that prior experience influences attention has included studies reporting that the visual selection of rewarded and reward-associated targets is more efficient than the selection of targets not associated with a reward (e.g., Della Libera & Chelazzi, 2009; Kiss, Driver, & Eimer, 2009;Raymond&O'Brien, 2009), and studies reporting that performance is impaired when previously rewarded distractors are present in a display (e.g., Anderson et al., 2011;Anderson&Yantis,2012;DellaLibera& Chelazzi, 2009; Theeuwes & Belopolsky, 2012). In other words, reward association, which is not always relevant to the current task, can influence the efficiency of selective attention. The purpose of the present work was to examine how task-irrelevant reward associations influence selective attention-specifically, whether the currently relevant task features modulate the effect of task-irrelevant reward associations.

The role of currently relevant task demands

Many aspects of the nature of visual selective attention have been debated (e.g., the units of selection, parallel vs. …

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