Reward grabs the eye: Oculomotor capture by rewarding stimuli

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★ Rewarded stimuli grab the eye. ★ Learned value has an effect on the saccadic eye movement system. ★ Reward modulates salience.

It is well known that salient yet task irrelevant stimuli may capture our eyes independent of our goals and intentions. The present study shows that a task-irrelevant stimulus that is previously associated with high monetary reward captures the eyes much stronger than that very same stimulus when previously associated with low monetary reward. We conclude that reward changes the salience of a stimulus such that a stimulus that is associated with high reward becomes more pertinent and therefore captures the eyes above and beyond its physical salience. Because the stimulus capture the eyes and disrupts goal-directed behavior we argue that this effect is automatic not driven by strategic, top-down control.

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