Learning to attend and to ignore is a matter of gains and losses

Psychol Sci. 2009 Jun;20(6):778-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02360.x. Epub 2009 May 5.


Efficient goal-directed behavior in a crowded world is crucially mediated by visual selective attention (VSA), which regulates deployment of cognitive resources toward selected, behaviorally relevant visual objects. Acting as a filter on perceptual representations, VSA allows preferential processing of relevant objects and concurrently inhibits traces of irrelevant items, thus preventing harmful distraction. Recent evidence showed that monetary rewards for performance on VSA tasks strongly affect immediately subsequent deployment of attention; a typical aftereffect of VSA (negative priming) was found only following highly rewarded selections. Here we report a much more striking demonstration that the controlled delivery of monetary rewards also affects attentional processing several days later. Thus, the propensity to select or to ignore specific visual objects appears to be strongly biased by the more or less rewarding consequences of past attentional encounters with the same objects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Association Learning
  • Attention*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reaction Time
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult