Pavlovian reward learning elicits attentional capture by reward-associated stimuli

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2018 Jul;80(5):1083-1095. doi: 10.3758/s13414-018-1502-2.


Feature-reward association elicits value-driven attentional capture (VDAC) regardless of the task relevance of associated features. What are the necessary conditions for feature-reward associations in VDAC? Recent studies claim that VDAC is based on Pavlovian conditioning. In this study, we manipulated the temporal relationships among feature, response, and reward in reward learning to elucidate the necessary components of VDAC. We presented reward-associated features in a variety of locations in a flanker task to form a color-reward association (training phase) and then tested VDAC in a subsequent visual search task (test phase). In Experiment 1, we showed reward-associated features in a task display requiring response selection and observed VDAC, consistent with most previous studies. In Experiment 2, features presented at a fixation display before a task display also induced VDAC. Moreover, in Experiment 3, we reduced the time interval between features and rewards so that features appeared after a task display and we obtained marginally significant VDAC. However, no VDAC was observed when features and rewards were simultaneously presented in a feedback display in Experiments 4 and 5, suggesting that a direct association between feature and reward is not sufficient for VDAC. These results are in favor of the idea that response selection does not mediate feature-reward association in VDAC. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the time interval of feature and reward is flexible with some restriction in the learning of feature-reward association. The present study supports the hypothesis that theories of Pavlovian conditioning can account for feature-reward association in VDAC.

Keywords: Associative learning; Attentional capture; Pavlovian conditioning; Reward; Task irrelevance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attentional Bias*
  • Color
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reward*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult