Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Strategic Top-Down Control versus Attentional Bias by Previous Reward History

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Strategic Top-Down Control versus Attentional Bias by Previous Reward History

Article excerpt

Published online: 4 June 2015

# The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Rewards modify performance so that attentional priority is given to stimuli associated with a higher probability of reward. A stimulus associated with reward attracts attention even when it is no longer relevant. In this study, we explored whether or not strategic top-down control can be employed to overcome the attentional bias from a recent reward-stimulus association. Four groups of 12 participants completed a spatial-cueing task involving two phases, in which the cue associated with the target location changed from Phase 1 to Phase 2. Attentional-bias effects toward a previously rewarded cue were demonstrated when the rewarded cue from Phase 1 interfered with the orienting toward a nonrewarded but valid cue in Phase 2. Associating the Phase 2 cue with a higher reward than had been used in Phase 1 resulted in a rapid orientation of attention to the new cue. These findings suggest that pathologies characterized by maladaptive attentional biases (e.g., addiction) may be counteracted by treatments that manipulate motivation by enhancing the subjective relevance of rewards that are less harmful.

Keywords Attentional capture . Attention . Reward history . Motivation

Recent studies have shown that attentional control is directly regulated by primary reward (e.g., food and sexual stimuli) and secondary reward (e.g., money; Awh, Belopolsky, & Theeuwes, 2012; Chelazzi, Perlato, Santandrea, & Della Libera, 2013). Particularly, financial reward enhances goal-directed control by motivation in human participants, strengthening the focus and stability of the current goal and fine-tuning the attentional resources available. Reward boosts perceptual process capacity, enhancing detection sensitivity in a visually challenging attention task (Engelmann, Damaraju, Padmala, & Pessoa, 2009). Reward also enhances executive control in a variety of domains, including selective attention (Gable & Harmon-Jones, 2008), response inhibition (Verbruggen & De Houwer, 2007), and working memory (Gray, 2001). Reward anticipation is associated with performance gain in response speed and accuracy, without any speed-accuracy trade-offs (Bijleveld, Custers, & Aarts, 2010; Savine, Beck, Edwards, Chiew, & Braver, 2010). Although pairing target stimuli with reward may be beneficial to an individual in many circumstances, recent work has highlighted that it may also lead to undesired aftereffects, whereby a stimulus previously associated with reward attracts attention even when it would be more beneficial to ignore it. Our study is concerned with manipulating motivation to determine whether strategic top-down control can be employed to overcome the ongoing effects of recent reward history that are not conducive to ongoing optimal task performance.

Beneficial effects of motivation by reward in selective attention have been investigated using various experimental paradigms. Savine et al. (2010) examined the effect of motivation on cognitive control, using a switching task in which participants received a reward based on their performance. Faster response times (RTs; by ~250 ms) and fewer errors were observed for trials within rewarded blocks, without any speed-accuracy trade-offs, and the facilitation was significantly stronger for mixed blocks (i.e., task-switching block) with high cognitive demands than for single-task blocks with low cognitive loads. Similar results were observed by Veling and Aarts (2010) using a Stroop task. Reward was shown to reduce the Stroop interference (i.e., participants take longer naming the color of a word if the color and meaning of the word are incongruent) typically observed in the task. In particular, Engelmann et al. (2009) investigated the effect of motivation in a Posner cue-target task similar to the one used in the present study. The participants were to use an endogenous cue (70 % valid) to detect visually faint faces that appeared either on the left or the right side of fixation. …

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