Irrelevant reward and selection histories have different influences on task-relevant attentional selection

Task-relevant and physically salient features influence visual selective attention. In the present study, we investigated the influence of task-irrelevant and physically nonsalient reward-associated features on visual selective attention. Two hypotheses were tested: One predicts that the effects of target-defining task-relevant and task-irrelevant features interact to modulate visual selection; the other predicts that visual selection is determined by the independent combination of relevant and irrelevant feature effects. These alternatives were tested using a visual search task that contained multiple targets, placing a high demand on the need for selectivity, and that was data-limited and required unspeeded responses, emphasizing early perceptual selection processes. One week prior to the visual search task, participants completed a training task in which they learned to associate particular colors with a specific reward value. In the search task, the reward-associated colors were presented surrounding targets and distractors, but were neither physically salient nor task-relevant. In two experiments, the irrelevant reward-associated features influenced performance, but only when they were presented in a task-relevant location. The costs induced by the irrelevant reward-associated features were greater when they oriented attention to a target than to a distractor. In a third experiment, we examined the effects of selection history in the absence of reward history and found that the interaction between task relevance and selection history differed, relative to when the features had previously been associated with reward. The results indicate that under conditions that demand highly efficient perceptual selection, physically nonsalient task-irrelevant and task-relevant factors interact to influence visual selective attention.

M. H. MacLean and B. Giesbrecht
Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics
Volume: 77
Number: 5
Pages: 1515-1528
Date: March, 2015
ICB Affiliated Authors: Barry Giesbrecht