Intrinsic motivation and attentional capture from gamelike features in a visual search task

Abstract

In psychology research studies, the goals of the experimenter and the goals of the participants often do not align. Researchers are interested in having participants who take the experimental task seriously, whereas participants are interested in earning their incentive (e.g., money or course credit) as quickly as possible. Creating experimental methods that are pleasant for participants and that reward them for effortful and accurate data generation, while not compromising the scientific integrity of the experiment, would benefit both experimenters and participants alike. Here, we explored a gamelike system of points and sound effects that rewarded participants for fast and accurate responses. We measured participant engagement at both cognitive and perceptual levels and found that the point system (which invoked subtle, anonymous social competition between participants) led to positive intrinsic motivation, while the sound effects (which were pleasant and arousing) led to attentional capture for rewarded colors. In a visual search task, points were awarded after each trial for fast and accurate responses, accompanied by short, pleasant sound effects. We adapted a paradigm from Anderson, Laurent, and Yantis (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(25):10367-10371, 2011b), in which participants completed a training phase during which red and green targets were probabilistically associated with reward (a point bonus multiplier). During a test phase, no points or sounds were delivered, color was irrelevant to the task, and previously rewarded targets were sometimes presented as distractors. Significantly longer response times on trials in which previously rewarded colors were present demonstrated attentional capture, and positive responses to a five-question intrinsic-motivation scale demonstrated participant engagement.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The formula for the trial points was MAX[0, (1,000 – RT) * 2]. For example, a 700-ms response resulted in 600 points earned, and any RT 1,000 ms or over resulted in 0 points.

  2. 2.

    To verify that red and green were not more physically salient than the other six distractor colors, eight new participants took part in a control experiment that consisted of only the test phase. The results indicated no significant differences in RTs from having a red distractor present, a green distractor present, or neither present, F(2, 14) = 1.31, p = .30, η p 2 = .16.

  3. 3.

    To verify that red and green were not more physically salient than the other six distractor colors, seven new participants took part in a control experiment that consisted of only the test phase. The results indicated no difference in RTs from having a red distractor present, a green distractor present, or neither present, F(2, 12) = 0.138, p = .87, η p 2 = .02.

  4. 4.

    To verify that red and green were not more physically salient than the other six distractor colors, eight new participants took part in a control experiment that consisted of only the test phase. The results indicated no difference in RTs from having a red distractor present, a green distractor present, or neither present, F(2, 14) = 0.074, p = .93, η p 2 = .01.

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Correspondence to Evan M. Palmer.

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Table 1 Sound effects table

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Miranda, A.T., Palmer, E.M. Intrinsic motivation and attentional capture from gamelike features in a visual search task. Behav Res 46, 159–172 (2014). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-013-0357-7

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Keywords

  • Attention
  • Visual search
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Reward
  • Gamelike features