The Salience of a Reward Cue Can Outlast Reward Devaluation
Reward cues can be perceived as highly attractive stimuli because of their acquired motivational properties. However, because the motivational value of reward changes after reward receipt, a debated question is whether the attentional salience of reward cues changes accordingly. In Experiment 1, thirsty participants learned 3 cue–reward associations involving different contingencies. Then, while thirsty, participants performed a visual-search task under extinction, during which the previous reward cues appeared as irrelevant stimuli containing target and distractor items. Experiment 2 was identical to Experiment 1, except that participants drank ad libitum before the visual-search task. In Experiment 3, instead, participants quenched their thirst at the beginning of the learning session. The results of Experiment 1 showed that attention was preferentially deployed toward the cue that best predicted the reward in the previous conditioning phase. Crucially, Experiment 2 revealed that the attentional bias persisted despite reward devaluation. By contrast, no attentional bias was found in Experiment 3. The novelty of our study is that the attentional salience of a reward cue can outlast reward devaluation, suggesting that some incentive properties of the cue can become independent from those of the reward.