Overt and covert attention to location-based reward

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Abstract

Recent research on the impact of location-based reward on attentional orienting has indicated that reward factors play an influential role in spatial priority maps. The current study investigated whether and how reward associations based on spatial location translate from overt eye movements to covert attention. If reward associations can be tied to locations in space, and if overt and covert attention rely on similar overlapping neuronal populations, then both overt and covert attentional measures should display similar spatial-based reward learning. Our results suggest that location- and reward-based changes in one attentional domain do not lead to similar changes in the other. Specifically, although we found similar improvements at differentially rewarded locations during overt attentional learning, this translated to the least improvement at a highly rewarded location during covert attention. We interpret this as the result of an increased motivational link between the high reward location and the trained eye movement response acquired during learning, leading to a relative slowing during covert attention when the eyes remained fixated and the saccade response was suppressed. In a second experiment participants were not required to keep fixated during the covert attention task and we no longer observed relative slowing at the high reward location. Furthermore, the second experiment revealed no covert spatial priority of rewarded locations. We conclude that the transfer of location-based reward associations is intimately linked with the reward-modulated motor response employed during learning, and alternative attentional and task contexts may interfere with learned spatial priorities.

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