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Marcus Rothkirch, Florian Ostendorf, Philipp Sterzer; Saccade latencies are modulated by previously learned stimulus value. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):485. doi: 10.1167/11.11.485.
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The execution of a saccade is a very fast and efficient way to direct attention to a stimulus in order to fulfill current goals. The latency and velocity of saccades to visual stimuli are influenced by the low-level properties of the stimulus as well as by its high-level characteristics, e.g., the relevance of the stimulus for a certain task. Here, we asked whether the learned motivational value influences the execution of saccades towards and away from visual stimuli. To this end, we conducted a combined reward-learning and eyetracking study. In the first part of the experiment, participants learned the association between face stimuli and their reward or punishment probabilities. In the second part of the experiment, the same face stimuli were presented in the context of a saccade task. In each trial, one of the faces was presented in the left or right hemifield, along with its scrambled version in the opposite hemifield. Participants were asked to perform a saccade as fast and accurately as possible either to the intact face or to the scrambled face. In this part of the experiment neither reward nor punishment could be obtained. The mean latency of saccades to faces previously associated with a high reward probability was significantly shorter compared to saccades to stimuli with a low reward probability. In contrast, no effect was observed for the previously punished faces. Saccade latencies to scrambled faces were generally longer compared to those towards intact faces, but showed no modulation by the previously learned value. These results demonstrate that short-term learning of motivational stimulus value facilitates fast overt orienting towards visual stimuli, even in a situation where the learned value is no longer task-relevant.
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