Effect of non-instructed instrumental contingency of monetary reward and positive affect in a cognitive control task

R Soc Open Sci. 2021 Aug 25;8(8):202002. doi: 10.1098/rsos.202002. eCollection 2021 Aug.


In recent years, we observed a strong interest in the influence of motivation and emotion on cognitive control. Prior studies suggest that the instrumental contingency between a response and a rewarding or affective stimulus is particularly important in that context-which is resonating with observations in the associative learning literature. However, despite this overlap, and the relevance of non-instructed learning in real life, the vast majority of studies investigating motivation-cognition interactions use direct instructions to inform participants about the contingencies between responses and stimuli. Thus, there is little experimental insight regarding how humans detect non-instructed contingencies between their actions and motivational or affective outcomes, and how these learned contingencies come to influence cognitive control processes. In an attempt to close this gap, the goal of the present study was to test the effect of non-instructed contingent and non-contingent outcomes (i.e. monetary reward and positive affective stimuli) on cognitive control using the AX-continuous performance task (AX-CPT) paradigm. We found that entirely non-instructed contingencies between responses and positive outcomes (both monetary and affective ones) led to significant performance improvement. The present results open new perspectives for studying the influence of motivation and emotion on cognitive control at the insertion with associative learning.

Keywords: associative learning; cognitive control; instrumental contingency; positive affect; reward.