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Nils Bergmann, Dennis Koch, Anna Schubö; Reward expectation facilitates context learning and attentional guidance in visual search. Journal of Vision 2019;19(3):10. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.3.10.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Modulations of visual attention due to expectation of reward were frequently reported in recent years. Recent studies revealed that reward can modulate the implicit learning of repeated context configurations (e.g., Tseng & Lleras, 2013). We investigated the influence of reward expectations on context learning by associating colors to different reward magnitudes. Participants searched through contexts consisting of spatially distributed L-shaped distractors and a T-shaped target, with half of these objects appearing in a color associated with low, medium, or high reward. Half of these context configurations were repeatedly presented in every experimental block, whereas the other half was generated newly for every trial. Results showed an earlier and more pronounced contextual cueing effect in contexts associated with high reward compared with low reward contexts. This was visible as faster decline of response times to targets in repeated contexts associated with high reward compared with repeated low reward and novel contexts, and was reflected in the eye movement pattern as shorter distance of the first fixation to the target location. These results suggest that expectation of high reward magnitude facilitates subsequent learning of repeated context configurations. High reward also increases the efficiency of attention guidance toward the target location.
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