Transcranial random-noise stimulation of visual cortex potentiates value-driven attentional capture

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Abstract

Reward feedback following visual search causes the visual characteristics of targets to become salient and attention-drawing, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying this value-driven capture effect. Here, we use transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) to demonstrate that such reward potentiation involves induced plasticity in visual cortex. Human participants completed a feature-search reward-learning task involving the selection of a red or green colored target presented among distractors of various color. Each correct trial garnered reward and the magnitude of reward was determined by the color of the target. Three groups completed this task: two groups received tRNS over either occipital or frontal cortex, and the third group received sham stimulation as a control. In a subsequent test phase of the experiment participants searched for a unique shape presented among colored distractors. During the test phase, no tRNS was applied and no reward was available. However, in some trials a single distractor had color matching that associated with reward during training. Search for the target was impacted by the presence of such reward-associated distractors in the occipital stimulation group, demonstrating that plasticity in visual cortex contributes to value-driven attentional capture.

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