Neuronal representations of cognitive state: reward or attention?

Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Jun;8(6):261-5. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.04.003.


The effects of spatial or featural attention on the activity of neurons have been studied in many experiments that have used a variety of neurophysiological approaches. Other experiments have examined how expectations about reward are represented in neuronal activity in various brain regions. Although attention and reward are distinct concepts, I argue here that many neurophysiological experiments on attention and reward do not permit a clean dissociation between the two. This problem arises in part because reward contingencies are the only parameter manipulated in any of these experiments. I describe how attention and reward expectations have been confounded, giving rise to uncertainty about how signals related to attention and reward are distributed in the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reward*