, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 536-542

Value associations of irrelevant stimuli modify rapid visual orienting


In familiar environments, goal-directed visual behavior is often performed in the presence of objects with strong, but task-irrelevant, reward or punishment associations that are acquired through prior, unrelated experience. In a two-phase experiment, we asked whether such stimuli could affect speeded visual orienting in a classic visual orienting paradigm. First, participants learned to associate faces with monetary gains, losses, or no outcomes. These faces then served as brief, peripheral, uninformative cues in an explicitly unrewarded, unpunished, speeded, target localization task. Cues preceded targets by either 100 or 1,500 msec and appeared at either the same or a different location. Regardless of interval, reward-associated cues slowed responding at cued locations, as compared with equally familiar punishment-associated or no-value cues, and had no effect when targets were presented at uncued locations. This localized effect of reward-associated cues is consistent with adaptive models of inhibition of return and suggests rapid, low-level effects of motivation on visual processing.

H.J.V.R. and J.L.O. were supported by studentships from the ESRC (U.K.) and an Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme, respectively.