A new perspective on human reward research: How consciously and unconsciously perceived reward information influences performance

  • Claire M. Zedelius
  • Harm Veling
  • Ruud Custers
  • Erik Bijleveld
  • Kimberly S. Chiew
  • Henk Aarts


The question of how human performance can be improved through rewards is a recurrent topic of interest in psychology and neuroscience. Traditional, cognitive approaches to this topic have focused solely on consciously communicated rewards. Recently, a largely neuroscience-inspired perspective has emerged to examine the potential role of conscious awareness of reward information in effective reward pursuit. The present article reviews research employing a newly developed monetary-reward-priming paradigm that allows for a systematic investigation of this perspective. We analyze this research to identify similarities and differences in how consciously and unconsciously perceived rewards impact three distinct aspects relevant to performance: decision making, task preparation, and task execution. We further discuss whether conscious awareness, in modulating the effects of reward information, plays a role similar to its role in modulating the effects of other affective information. Implications of these insights for understanding the role of consciousness in modulating goal-directed behavior more generally are discussed.


Reward Motivation Consciousness Unconscious processing 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire M. Zedelius
    • 1
  • Harm Veling
    • 2
  • Ruud Custers
    • 3
    • 4
  • Erik Bijleveld
    • 4
  • Kimberly S. Chiew
    • 5
  • Henk Aarts
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonGreat Britain
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

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