This study examined the extent to which the responses of single cells in the striate cortex (V1) and the extrastriate cortex (V4) of the alert rhesus monkey are modulated by visual stimuli whose relevance in a behavioral task is varied. The animal had to detect the repetition of a visual pattern (i.e. detect similarity), preceded by a randomized number of alternations between two different patterns. The responses produced by the last, reward contingent stimulus were compared with responses obtained to that same stimulus earlier in the sequence. Modulatory effects in V1 were moderate: 31% of the cells (63 of 200) showed response increments of 20% or more to the last, reward contingent stimulus. In V4 the effects were much more pronounced: 72% of the cells (110 of 154) showed modulatory effects of more than 20%. In V4 but not in V1 orientation tuning curves showed a significant narrowing as well as a peak response increment to the behaviorally salient stimulus, suggesting a feature specific mechanism associated with the detection of similarity. Although a response decrement was observed in many cells during the repeated alternations, this effect was significantly smaller than the modulation produced by the detection of similarity. Controls included the presentation of novel stimuli during the presentation sequence which did not produce an enhanced response. It is hypothesized that the feature specific effects reported here are produced by higher order feedback systems.