August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
Reward captures attention independent of the current focus of attention
Author Affiliations
  • Xin Xue
    Department of Psychology, Peking University
  • Sheng Li
    Department of Psychology, Peking University
  • Jan Theeuwes
    Cognitive Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 84. doi:
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      Xin Xue, Sheng Li, Jan Theeuwes; Reward captures attention independent of the current focus of attention. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):84.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Previous studies have demonstrated that when focusing attention to a location in space, salient stimuli outside the focus of attention do not capture attention. The present study investigated whether a non-salient but reward-signaling color outside the focus of attention still has the ability to capture attention. In the current study, participants searched for a specific color among six differently colored circles. One color of the non-target circles signaled the reward magnitude (high versus low) that could be earned on that trial. An abrupt onset cue was presented before the search array at the location of target or reward signaling distractor with equal probability. Results showed that response time was slower when attention was cued at a high-reward distractor relative to a low-reward distractor, indicating delayed disengagement from the location of a distractor that signaled a high versus a low reward. Interestingly, even when the target location was cued, response times were also slowed down by a high-reward distractor. This suggests that even when the cue directs attention to the location of the target, a high reward signaling distractor has to ability to capture attention even when the distractor is non-salient. Notably, this capture effect only occurred in the second part of the experiment suggesting that participants learned the reward contingencies between color and reward payout. Furthermore, we show a response compatibility effect: when a high-reward distractor was shown — search accuracy was higher when orientation of bar inside the target matched that of a high-reward distractor — in the second half but not the first half of experiment, again demonstrating that location-specific attentional capture by the reward distractor following reward learning. We conclude that a reward signaling distractor can capture attention even when it is not salient and even when attention is focused elsewhere in the display.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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