— Motivated Cognition Lab

June, 2017 Monthly archive

A paper based on work completed during Daniel’s very productive short sabbatical in Rovereto!

Motivation and short-term memory in visual search: Attention’s accelerator revisited.

Schneider, Bonmassar, & Hickey (2017, Cortex)

A cue indicating the possibility of cash reward will cause participants to perform memory-based visual search more efficiently. Thus if participants know there is money to be earned, they will be fast and accurate in finding a remembered object in a search display. A recent study has suggested that this performance benefit might reflect the use of multiple memory systems: when needed, participants can maintain the to-be-remembered object in both long-term and short-term visual memory and this redundancy benefits identification during search (Reinhart, McClenahan & Woodman, Psychological Science 2016, 27(6), 790-798). Here we test this compelling hypothesis. We had participants complete a memory-based visual search task involving a reward cue that either preceded presentation of the to-be-remembered target (pre-cue) or followed it (retro-cue). We tracked memory representation using two components of the ERP: contralateral delay activity (CDA), reflecting short-term visual memory, and the anterior P170, reflecting long-term storage. Results show that only the pre-cue impacted our ERP indices of memory. However, both types of cue elicited frontal ERP activity tied to reward processing, and both had equivalent impact on visual search behavior and associated ERP components. Reward prospect thus has an impact on memory-guided visual search, but this does not appear to be necessarily mediated by a change in visual memory representations. Our results demonstrate that the impact of reward prospect on search is not a simple product of improved memory for target templates.


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On June 16th, 2017, a mini-workshop on ‘Motivation, selection, and information-seeking’ will take place at the Center for Mind / Brain Science (CIMEC) of the University of Trento, Italy.

Confirmed speakers are:

Leonardo Chelazzi (University of Verona, IT)
Giorgio Coricelli (University of Trento, IT; University of Southern California, USA)
Jackie Gottlieb (Columbia University, USA)
Clayton Hickey (University of Trento, IT)
Jane Raymond (Birmingham University, UK)

Each speaker will give a 40 minute talk to be followed by a 20 minute question period.

The workshop will be held in the Aula Magna of Palazzo Piomarta, which is located at Corso Bettini 84, Rovereto, Italy. Talks will begin at 11 am and finish by 6pm. (Note that the workshop is preceded by a 10am colloquium at the same location by Gregor Thut of the University of Glasgow).

All are welcome, there is no fee, and no formal registration is required. Drop me a quick note if you plan on coming (clayton.hickey@unitn.it).

Hope you can join us!


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Reward selectively modulates the lingering neural representation of recently attended objects in natural scenes.

Hickey & Peelen

Theories of reinforcement learning and approach behaviour suggest that reward can increase the perceptual salience of environmental stimuli, ensuring that potential predictors of outcome are noticed in the future. But outcome commonly follows visual processing of the environment, occurring even when potential reward cues have long disappeared. How can reward feedback retroactively cause now-absent stimuli to become attention-drawing in the future? One possibility is that reward and attention interact to prime lingering visual representations of attended stimuli that sustain through the interval separating stimulus and outcome. Here we test this idea using multivariate pattern analysis of fMRI data collected from male and female humans. While in the scanner, participants searched for examples of target categories in briefly-presented pictures of city- and landscapes. Correct task performance was followed by reward feedback that could randomly have either high or low magnitude. Analysis showed that high-magnitude reward feedback boosted the lingering representation of target categories while reducing the representation of nontarget categories. The magnitude of this effect in each participant predicted the behavioural impact of reward on search performance in subsequent trials. Other analyses show that sensitivity to reward – as expressed in a personality questionnaire and in reactivity to reward feedback in the dopaminergic midbrain – predicted reward-elicited variance in lingering target and nontarget representations. Credit for rewarding outcome thus appears to be assigned to the target representation, causing the visual system to become sensitized for similar objects in the future.

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